By David Rupiny
The people of Greater Nebbi (Nebbi, Pakwach and Zombo districts) are very frustrated over the extremely poor state of roads in the sub-region of West Nile.
Matters have been worsened by more than normal rains that are wreaking havoc and have literally washed off the roads, adversely impacting travel and haulage of goods. Images of vehicles stuck in mud, overturned, broken down and so forth are all too common.
For once, majority, if not all people of Greater Nebbi, are speaking with one voice: we want the roads tarmacked. The people feel not only frustrated but feel that their long-time support of the governing party is not being rewarded.
Until in recent years, Greater Nebbi was one of the few strongholds of the National Resistance Movement government in northern Uganda, for which they received lots of barbs from then opposition strongholds. They feel a sense of envy when they see these former opposition strongholds are being rewarded with better infrastructure, especially roads.
For once, there is protracted efforts to pressure the government to fix roads in the sub-region, a thing that should not be difficult to do. Greater Nebbi, literally speaking, has just “one long road” that runs through it; fix it and it is game over.
That road starts in Pakwach District and ends in Arua District: Wadelai-Pakwach-Panyimur-Parombo-Erussi-Goli/Nebbi-Paidha/Padea-Zombo-Zeu/Warr-Vurra. The road can be tarmacked in phases, starting with especially the Nebbi-Goli to Vurra section.
Amazingly, this road does not appear anywhere near the list of priority roads captured in National Development Plan 3, yet those that do not even come near in terms of significance are.
That road is economically significant, over and above most of the roads so far prioritized by government. It runs through perhaps the most agriculturally productive part of northern Uganda, long described as the region’s “food basket”.
One just needs to be in Nebbi on any day to see many truckloads of foodstuffs from markets like Paidha, Alangi, Nyalip, etc. heading to various destinations like rest of West Nile, Acholi, Lango, Bunyoro and South Sudan. Much of the food that feeds Arua City comes from Greater Nebbi and Vurra (Arua District).
In addition to lots of food crops, Greater Nebbi produces lots of fish, beef, milk, hides and skins, cotton, Arabica coffee, tea, timber and pyrethrum, amongst others. Zombo Arabica is now known to be the best in Uganda and one of the best in the world. Tea production has also started.
Lots of matooke, avocado, potatoes, cassava and mangoes from Greater Nebbi are now being ferried to Kampala. Lots of timber in West Nile, Acholi, Lango and Kampala actually come from Greater Nebbi. Greater Nebbi supplies Arua city with milk.
Recently I travelled through West Nile with two colleagues from central Uganda who had never had the chance of traversing the entire region, save for occasional visits to Arua. We traveled from Adjumani through Moyo, Yumbe, Koboko, Maracha, Arua, Madi-Okollo and Nebbi up to Zombo.
It was when we were in Zombo that my colleagues started remarking how agriculturally productive Zombo is compared to the rest of West Nile. That is an image of Greater Nebbi that many Ugandans do not know and appreciate. It is also one of the most beautiful parts of Uganda with fantastic climate.
The Greater Nebbi road connects one municipality (Nebbi), eight town councils (Pakwach, Panyimur, Parombo, Nyaravur-Angal, Paidha, Padea, Zombo and Warr) and over 20 large growth centres, signifying the kind of growing urbanization not seen in any part of northern Uganda. Paidha actually deserves being a municipality.
That road is also an international route, connecting three very important customs – Goli (with an economic zone), Padea and Vurra – in addition to other significant border crossings. These border points are the most critical supply routes to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Trucks over trucks cross through these border points. Padea, for example, passes as having the most number of car depots after Kampala.
In addition to connecting four districts, the road also leads to the headquarters of Alur Kingdom, arguably the oldest kingdom in Uganda, and the headquarters of Nebbi Catholic Diocese and Nebbi Church of Uganda Diocese, as well as infrastructure like Nyagak dam, Wadelai irrigation scheme (biggest in Uganda), Nebbi Industrial and Business Park, factories, cottage industries, sawmills, farms, hospitals, schools, government facilities, etc.
The Greater Nebbi roads also have security significance due to proximity to the volatile northeastern DRC. With the very poor state of the road one wonders how our troops can move fast should there be any cross-boundary volatilities.
The promise to tarmac the Greater Nebbi road(s) was made many decades ago and one wonders why it has never been prioritized. One also wonders why a road that UNRA claims has already been designed years back is never prioritized, yet those that pale in significance have.
The Greater Nebbi roads under UNRA are not maintained as should on account of the ineptness of the UNRA station in Arua. Even budget for road maintenance is not there? Truckers say from Mombasa to the DRC the most problematic road section is Jukia hill in Nebbi Municipality, but UNRA looks the other way. It makes sense for Greater Nebbi to have its own UNRA sub-station, like the one in Moyo for Madi sub-region.
The claim that the Nebbi roads are not economically viable falls flat, face down. On account of many factors like economic potential, economic activity including hosting the biggest irrigation scheme, its strategic location in the oil and tourism-rich Albertine Graben, its connection with DRC, amongst others, Greater Nebbi is the place to watch.
A decision to tarmac the Greater Nebbi road fits well with the public policy trilogy of a development policy hinging on evidence, being implementable and politically feasible. It fits all three. In terms of political feasibility, for example, tarmacking that road is akin to shooting four birds with a stone; reaping political dividend from the districts of Nebbi, Pakwach, Zombo and Arua.
The Greater Nebbi roads are, ideally, also oil roads. People always forget that more than half of Greater Nebbi (Pakwach and Nebbi districts) actually are in the Graben. The Dei-Panyimur-Pakwach-Wadelai stretch of the Greater Nebbi road is perhaps the most centrally located road in the oil-rich region. That road, with its ferry connection from Panyimur to Wanseko in Buliisa District, is critical for the oil developments.
Each time answers are sought either from Ministry of Works and Transport or UNRA, the responses are half-hearted, almost like saying “go to hell”. The impression created is that Greater Nebbi does not matter; that is even if the Chair of UNRA is actually from Greater Nebbi.
Increasingly, the people are feeling that they are not Ugandan enough, and that they do not matter in the grand scheme of things, which is a sad commentary on sharing of the national cake.
A positive in all these is that for once the people of Greater Nebbi are saying: enough is enough. They are talking, shouting, petitioning, tweeting, and with some even planning to demonstrate, peacefully. A priest has already demonstrated by walking for miles to Nebbi. The people are very concerned.
Greater Nebbi deserves better roads, like any other part of Uganda.
David Rupiny is a concerned citizen from Greater Nebbi.