Recreation Centre With the World’s Biggest Hut to be Built in Gulu, Why?

The writer, Caroline A. Ocheng

I read with interest the article “Recreation Centre with World’s Biggest Hut to be built in Gulu” written in Acholi times on 14th June by Moses Odokonyero. It interests me for various reasons; for its potential- a recreation centre has the potential to create jobs and add value to our home, our city and thus contribute to developing our families, community and of course our region and ultimately our country.

As a history lover and a blogger, I like the idea of a museum, a place to read and write, for therein might come some inspiration. In the museum walls, I see pictures that tell stories of old; stories about our heroes; Okot P’ Bitek, Daudi Ochieng, Dr. Corti, Janani Luwum, Irene Gleeson and many others. Stories about our dark history; the atrocities conducted by Alice Lakwena and Kony, and how as a people of grit, we continue to rise above the effects of these atrocities. I see stories about Ebola and how as a region we contained it and provided lessons for West Africa and the world to learn from during the 2014-2016 Ebola pandemic, sadly in the process we lost Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, a hero we fondly remember. I see a section about the recent wrangles between Madi and Acholi and how as a people we resolved never to shade blood, but work together because we are a people, we are Ugandans and we are humans. I see a place in the museum that will continue to unite us in our history and a future where our children and theirs will flourish.

I see our young men working their muscles out and our young women keeping fit, I see the clinic and the day-care.  The romantic in me sees our young couples in the recreation centre promising undying love for each other.  I see tourists from far and beyond flocking Gulu to see biggest hut. I see all this and I see so much more… I am getting carried away. Am sure you all were when you read/heard about this project. If not, “the world’s biggest hut to be built in Gulu?” surely is catchy enough to appeal to us all. It is in moments like this that we need to pause and ask questions.

A reader by the name of Wilobotek asked interesting questions; whether a study to the effect of the project on the water table in the area has been conducted. He asked for the architectural concept and hoped that the facility won’t be limited to Christian activities. Asking questions helps us gain a deeper understanding and develop better solutions to our challenges or problems. These are relevant questions to ask, I commend Wilobotek, our leaders present at the presentation and would like to add my voice too.

Paul Flemming said and I quote “in all my 40 years of structural engineering, I have never built a hut of that size” and the sceptical me asks, why should we trust him and his team? What if this is some ambitious strategy to satisfy some career ambition? What if, what if? I looked up Steve Ulrich’s and Paul Flemming’s credentials on Google and LinkedIn, there are numerous profiles with the same name.  I also looked up World Embrace and Engineers Ministry International (EMI) and the generous work that they do. I will keep looking at these sites to see information about this project. I would have thought that if the project is scheduled to start next year, we would already have some information on the sites.  I would like to think that the authorisers of this project have performed proper due diligence. Maybe some of this information needs to be in our public domain as well as answers to Wilobotek’s queries and answers to some of my musings below;

  • Who owns that land between Unifat and Kaunda ground where the centre is going to be built? I ask this because we all know so well of projects which ultimately benefit a select privileged few. Yes, the potential to create jobs and value is there however we need to ensure that the potential materialises and the value is realised when the time comes. How will we ensure that indeed our people will get these jobs, how do we ensure that they will be treated fairly and thirdly how do we ensure that the community, our community will benefit from such structures both in the short and long term?
  • What is driving this project, do we really need such a facility, why now?

We had good representation at the presentation of the project. Gulu District Chairman commented that “Gulu needs a proper recreation facility” I thank them for leading from the front. What questions did these people ask though? Where are the answers?  I would like to know what the key driver and or motivation for the project is? Do we really need this facility? We continue to take our relatives to Kampala and abroad for medical attention because we don’t have some of the required high-tech facilities in our hospitals. So why have we chosen this project over for instance, uplifting the national referral hospital or installing scanning facilities and other high-tech equipment at present structures? This is just an example. I might be informed that Gulu is not the funder and so should accept anything we are given. I raise this question because often and in recent years, we have seen funders dictating how their money should be used, we see funders giving aid to meet their own needs and greed of select few rather than working with the people, you and I to identify and tackle more pressing issues.

  • How will profits be shared? A fitness centre, a clinic, auditorium, a day-care centre, basketball courts etc. All these are fantastic facilities to have, after all the standard of living in Gulu and the region continues to grow and attract people of diverse backgrounds.  They are facilities that will certainly generate money. This gets me thinking about the profits. How will the profits be used? Is Gulu going to own part of the facility? Will some of it be given back to develop our people? If it will, how are we going to hold these people accountable? I am technology change/project manager by day. The literature and practice in my field both show that project benefits and maintenance ought to be given some thought at the start of the project as well as during the project and post project. I believe this thinking is necessary even for structural undertakings.  Christian organisations have good intentions, they have demonstrated this over and over for example they have been key partners in helping our region rise above the atrocities the region has under gone. In my opinion, we should still ask the questions and hold them accountable to ensure that our undertakings serve us not only today but tomorrow as well. Otherwise what lessons are we learning from various projects that have been disasters including the Uganda National Theatre which is going to be demolished in favour of a shopping complex? Just like that part of our history will be gone, what shall we pass on to our children?

Lutuwa, before we get carried away, let’s pause and ask the questions, get the answers and ensure our leaders are transparent and accountable.  Jomo Kenyatta once said and I paraphrase that when the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the resources (land, gold, diamonds etc) and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had our resources and we had the Bible. Missionaries come in various forms today. It might be possible to think that 8-15 years is a long time. Let’s be receptive, ask questions and negotiate value for today, tomorrow for our future and the future of our children and their children.

Caroline A. Ocheng is a Blogger