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Inside govt’s fresh plan for northern Uganda

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Left to right (front row): Minister for Northern Uganda Reconstruction Kenneth Omona, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, and Government Chief Whip Denis Obua, at the function in Gulu on May 31, 2024. PHOTO/FILE

The government has launched an offensive it says will kick poverty out of northern Uganda after years of misery. The anti-poverty plan comes  20 years after the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in the region.

Ms Robinah Nabbanja, the Prime Minister, said now is the time to unleash a new approach to getting the people of northern Uganda out of poverty. 

She said while several previous programmes focused on infrastructure, the new approach will focus on livelihoods for the communities so that more people get out of the subsistence economy.

She said this during the homecoming of the State Minister for Northern Uganda, Dr Kenneth Omona, in Gulu City on May 31.  

Key on the agenda is the rollout of the fourth phase of the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf IV), the fight against poverty, the construction of Akii-Bua Stadium, and preserving the gains made during the previous interventions.

“As you all know, you all endured the ravages of war, and the scars are still vivid. So I’m here on behalf of the President to assure you that your pain has not gone unnoticed, and that is why the government came up with several programs focusing on this region,” Ms Nabbanja said.

Ms Nabbanja said the plan for introducing Nusaf IV is in its final stages and that the programme will soon be rolled out.

“We are in the process of reintroducing Nusaf IV and the designs of this programme are complete. When we were appointed by the President, we were asked to only focus on the livelihoods of the people. This time, we are not going to construct schools. We are not going to construct roads. We are going to inject money into people so that this time will not be a disaster,” she said.

Reacting to the plan, however, local leaders expressed mixed reactions, with some suggesting that for decades, such interventions have not transformed the lives of the local communities, citing poor implementation and outright corruption by the people in charge of the programmes.

Mr Williams Anyama, the Moyo District chairperson, who also doubles as the chairperson of West Nile Development Agency, said the issues of West Nile have always been relegated to the back bench when the northern question is put into focus. 

He said as leaders from the West Nile, their voices must be heard and specific interventions put in place to address their issues.

He said while other regions have opportunities to attract investors, West Nile is left out, with its basic infrastructure lagging behind.

“We have land we cannot put to appropriate use. We appeal to the government to work with us in attracting investments and building partnerships so that we put our land in this region to proper use to cause employment and income enhancement in this region,” he said.

“Right now, we are reminding you about the road network in this region. We are reminding you about Laropi Bridge  and the rehabilitation of Karuma, which is affecting the economy of this region,” he added.

He further said the question of reparation for war victims has remained a sticking issue in the West Nile Sub-region. He implored the government to address the problem before it escalates to another level.

“We remind you the Prime Minister about the war victims. We appreciate government efforts for the compensation of war victims but the West Nile Sub-region, particularly, has missed out on this,” he said.

Women from Akwokicinga group in Unyama Trading Centre in Gulu District prepare snacks for sale. The group is among the 39 that are benefiting from Nusaf III Sustainable Livelihood Pilot project in the district. PHOTO/FILE

Ms Judith Alyek, the Kole Woman MP and the chairperson of Lango Parliamentary Group, said while the region is one of the tax contributors, they are always neglected when it comes to development programmes. 

She said the people of Lango are tired of begging the government and demand answers as to why they are neglected.

“In the development programmes that should come to Lango Sub-region, they usually beg the government yet they have been one of the best contributors in revenue. And they are saying, why should they beg so much for roads, for the construction of palaces, for the construction of Akii-Bua Stadium, and other development projects when they are the highest tax contributors?” she questioned.

Northern Uganda has emerged as the poorest region in the country, replacing both Karamoja and Busoga which had previously occupied the position alternately. 

The 2019/20 Uganda Bureau of Statistics National Household Survey indicated that the poverty levels in the north stand at 67.7 percent, which is higher than those of Busoga, which stands at 65,  and Bukedi at 34.7 percent.

Within north, Acholi has the highest poverty rates standing at 68 percent, followed by Lango which is at 33.4 percent and West Nile with the lowest at 16.7 percent.

Ms Nabbanja said Parliament has already endorsed the Nusaf IV project and the final work is being done by the Finance ministry to ensure that everything is set.

“I had a meeting with the Minister of Finance and we are focusing on this project and looking for a way of making sure that all the issues are addressed. So, I want to assure the people of north and Uganda in general that we are committed to ensuring that the affirmative action programs from northern Uganda remain a priority,” Ms Nabbanja said.

She also said plans are underway to complete the construction of the Akii-Bua Stadium, which is expected to host part of the Afcon 2027 games.

“Let me take this opportunity to inform the people of Lango that we put [aside Shs]100 million for Akii-Bua Stadium construction in a budget for 2025. The President directed that we should also work on this road from Gulu Airport up to Lira. That road is also one of those areas that are going to be worked on. So, the people of Lango, if that was a condition, we are ready to move,” she said.

A substandard spectator pavilion constructed at the Akii-Bua Stadium in 2018. PHOTO/FILE

Dr Omona  said while the region has abundant potential, it has remained poor because of its long history of insurgency.

He said while government has transformed the economy of the country, with a lot of developments taking place in other parts of the country, a lot still needs to be done, especially in the northern region where poverty is visible.

“Government over the years has invested directly in the policy and programmes such as food security, household income, and wealth creation. The efforts have not paid so much and this region has continued to remain among the top poorest parts of this country,” he said.

He said from the time he was appointed as the State Minister for Northern Uganda, he has been asking himself what he can do to change the situation so that the region can be at par with the rest of the country.

He said for him to succeed, every leader hailing from the north must make an effort to mobilise the locals for development.

“You are the leaders of the people. Elected or not elected, appointed or not appointed, you are the people’s leaders. They believe in you and your responsibility of joining the efforts of the President in the fight against poverty and food [insecurity] in every household for the creation of wealth and prosperity,” he said.

To him, tackling the question of poverty includes involving the locals and their leaders who must take responsibility so that collectively, they own the programmes meant for the region.

“So it’s a war for everybody and this is the war that I am going to mobilise you for. We, therefore, should look at poverty like the insurgencies we experienced here in the region. Everybody must play their role and responsibilities,” he said, adding: “All leaders in their different capacities and areas of influence, responsibilities and platforms should alert and remind the people that everyone should endeavour to look for something or invest in their homes to ensure that every household should earn income.”

The minister said he will issue directives to all the parish chiefs in the north to organise monthly meetings where locals will sit with their parish chiefs to raise issues that affect them and derive solutions.

“Communities will sit and discuss what is affecting their villages. So, every parish will choose the day when they will have Barazas. I want us to work together because government will continue to support the citizens,” he said.

The northern question
The Paramount Chief of Acholi Cultural Institution, Rwot David Onen Acana II, said while the government has initiated different programmes for the people in the north, the results are wanting. 

He added that while infrastructure programmes like roads and schools are seen, the majority of the people are still wallowing in poverty, a disease that the government must work hard to cure. 

“We, the leaders who are on the ground, experience the people’s problems every day, some of which are very painful, yet we would do nothing,” he said.

He cautioned Minister Omona of tough times ahead as poverty and other social problems affecting the people in the north stare him in the face.

“I am afraid you will come at the time when everything seems to be a miss. But I’m also happy that it is you who is coming. And this is not to discourage you but it is to strengthen you and to make you ready to do the work that you are supposed to do to the expectation and satisfaction of the people,” he said.

Rwot Acana said the government should stop designing programmes by default but listen to the demands of specific sub-regions and districts so that interventions made address the specific local needs and demands.

“I would also request that through your office, the programmes that will be forthcoming should be designed in a way that is specific to each sub-region, because each of these areas has a specific comparative advantage in terms of everything that they have,” he said.

He also said youths should be mobilised into groups for commercial farming instead of giving them money for businesses that collapse before their first anniversary.

“There should be support for them to do commercial farming in their sub-counties. We could use the youth to introduce money crops like it is being done in other regions. Crops such as coffee and macadamia, and fruit trees like avocado,” he said.

About NUSAF projects ... NUSAF I $100 Million
The World Bank report on Nusaf I said the project, supported by IDA, became effective on February 5, 2003, and closed on March 31, 2009. 

Its objective was to empower communities in the then 18 districts of Northern Uganda by enhancing their capacity to systematically identify, prioritise, and plan for their needs and, ultimately, to improve economic livelihoods and social cohesion. 

The report, however, said while the Nusaf I contributed to addressing the challenges characteristic of Northern Uganda, widespread poverty, vulnerability, and service delivery challenges remained.

NUSAF II US$ 100 million 
The development objective of the Second Northern Uganda Social Action Fund Project (Nusaf II) which started in 2010 and ended in 2015 was to improve access of beneficiary households in Northern Uganda to income-earning opportunities and better basic socio-economic services. 

The first component of the project is for livelihood investment support, which supported community based public works program, income generation, skills for creation of self-employment and productive assets for targeted poor community households in Northern Uganda. 

The second component of the project was community infrastructure rehabilitation, which supported rehabilitation of community infrastructure to improve access to basic socio-economic services. 

The third component of the project was institutional development, which financed activities at the national, district, sub-county and community levels to support project implementation and activities aimed at improving accountability and transparency in the use of project resources.

NUSAF III $130 Million
The Third Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf III) came officially to a close on June 30, 2021, after five years of implementation from March 2016.  

The planned closing date was originally December 31, 2020, however, implementation was slowed down in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic which necessitated a no-cost extension to the closing date of June 30, 2020.   

The Project carried out the last joint review mission of the Government of Uganda and the World Bank from June 4  to 8, 2021. The mission concluded that the Project had fulfilled its Project Development Objective with an overall satisfactory rating from the World Bank.