Acholi can recover from the war and the current economic crisis
Always viewed by his constituents as society’s safety net and one who always has the interest of his people at heart, Reagan Okumu is a Member of Parliament for Aswa County, a formidable member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and a Sociologist by profession. Born on the 15 July 1969, Reagan is happily married with three kids. He is interested in Diplomacy, Research, Travel and International issues.
In a two part series, Hon Okumu talked to Acholi Times correspondence, Eunice Lamunu about the current inflation and economic difficulties in Uganda and how the people in northern Uganda can adopt to the situation as they struggle to painfully recover from the war.
Honourable Reagan, as government and leaders what measures have you put in place to help the people from northern Uganda to handle the economic situation and recover from the war?
First of all, the current economic crisis is a result of many factors, the result of firstly weather changes, secondly global challenges with regard to the oil crisis that is going around the world, and it is affecting countries like American and others, you to remember that even western Europe, these are countries which are being bailed out, these include Belgium and many others so it’s not in isolation.
Thirdly, the crisis has arisen out of total government negligence, our own government’s negligence since they have not been able to respond to these challenges. As a result of that, the consequence vary from region to region in this country, there are areas that are able to absorb it because they have strong shock absorbers but there are areas like Acholi sub region whose shock absorbers are weak because of the war and a lot of things have been devastated and at the end of the day, it’s not only about food crisis, it’s basically about social and economic well fare of our people, will people be able to afford school fees? Will they be able to send their children to school, buy uniforms or salt for themselves?
As I speak now, inflation has risen “officially” to 14% but the truth is, this is a conservative figure that the government has come up with, the actual truth is that inflation has gone up to 16% which means the value of our shilling has gone down that far.
So at the end of the day, what should our people do? First of all, as a representative of our people, we know our government has become very arrogant, and very irresponsible in responding to the situation, I have heard from the president and the ministers saying that they cannot bring rain, these are external problems, but even Americans were able to bail out institutions and these institutions were able to help people, banks and companies were bailed out and the Obama administration was able to stabilise their economy.
As people who come from the northern part of Uganda, we have been in the war period for a long time, we have been surviving on charcoal, trees have been cut down. It’s high time our people embark on tree planting. Fortunately we have been able to lobby funds. For example the Norwegians have given us 3 billion shillings for tree planting and to restore the vegetation of northern Uganda. Some of these trees can be used for commercial use and they will be able to earn us money in the future. If a young man today plants pines and eucalyptus trees, in 7 to 8 years you will be able to earn money from the companies like Nile Companies which make doors and they use timber as their raw materials to make many other things. So at the end of the day, afforestation is a must, our people must embark on it, the seedlings are free for people who want to plant, so with time we will restore the vegetation in this region which will also mean improving the weather.
We must desist from tree cutting and embark on other economic activities, most people have been relying on charcoal burning; this cannot really help us. Along that same line, since we know that the problem is due to weather changes; our people should not be conservative. In the past, people knew that in January they would open up their field expecting rain in March but now the weather pattern has changed, it will start raining towards the end of April but these days it rains up to January. So we must be able to adopt in following the rain pattern. I would like to urge our government to re-emphasis the weather focus properly because that is the major problem we are facing. So if our people can adjust to the rain pattern, they will be able to organise themselves because if you know how much rain a certain plant needs, you will be able to plant it in the right season and you reap more from your earnings. For instance in northern Uganda we have two rain seasons where the pattern has also shifted. Today it will rain up to January and this has set people off. So people should learn how to adjust and stop being conservative.
Acholi people need to embark on commercial production, if you used to produce 3 sacks, of simsim, millet or sorghum, and you sell one keep 2 for home consumption, you can now produce 7 sacks, sell 5 and keep 2 for home consumption, to me this is the most practical thing that our people can do because they have the capability, they do not need mechanisation, even with hoes you can produce a lot of food. For instance the way our youth hung around trading centres, they do nothing, if these youth were engaged in agriculture, for example in the morning you go and open up your land, in the afternoon you go back home and rest and in the evening you go and do some weeding but you find them starting to drink very early in the morning hence wasting a lot of time, people should take this seriously. Drinking is a relaxation, you drink when you have and if you don’t have you should not be able to drink because drinking is actually spending, you drink what you have earned, so people should refocus themselves.
Right now we have a good market in southern Sudan. For me am not a person who agrees that it’s because of southern Sudan that we have the food crisis, that is not true. We should actually take advantage of it because people no longer produce cash crops like coffee and cotton, so our cash crop is now food crops, so since the market for food is in southern Sudan, I don’t see why that should be a problem. What don’t we have? We have the land, I have seen people in southern Sudan who come and buy the whole garden of cassava, you just tell them how much you want even when it’s not yet uprooted and they will pay you in dollars and they will come and uproot it. So I think having the proximity to southern Sudan is healthy because we shall be able to earn money and send our children to school, build permanent houses, improve our welfare and be able to improve our entire lively hood, so we should opt for commercial agriculture with the idea of the neighbouring market on our minds.
After the war, I have also seen that our people are becoming extremely very lazy, because as we were growing up, our people had granaries which were always full with food. By the way, the Acholi granaries are the most civilised way of food storage which means we are even more civilised than the western world, the Europeans invented fridges which can only keep food for a short period of time, but our granaries can keep food for over a year and it would still be good. If you go to homes right now, people keep food in polythene bags (Buveera) which is very absurd; our people should turn back and start using granaries because it’s another form of food security approach.
To me therefore, I think we have the solution in our hands, especially those who come from Acholi, the weather and rain pattern only changed, therefore we should be able to adjust to the rain pattern.
For example Gulu receives the highest amount of rainfall after Entebbe in the whole country. We also have the best drainage compared to eastern Uganda. In eastern Uganda, when it rains a lot, there is always flood because of poor drainage but in our place, there is still enough drainage, the very many rivers drain all the water so we get rivers once in a while getting flooded and roads getting bad but the gardens will not be affected.
If we can adjust to the rainy seasons, for me with this so called food crisis, we can actually turn our area into a food basket not only for the region but the many other countries. So the challenge really goes to the leaders at both national, parliament and district and sub county level that they must go down and their pre-occupation must focus on that. What is it that we can produce? Now, in the past we never used to produce much rice but today rice does very well and we can make 2 seasons if we find that sorghum does not do well, why can’t we go for rice and plant enough and sell but also be able keep some for food. Even recently beans are doing well in northern Uganda and it goes for 2 seasons, so we can be able to go for intercropping and still do a lot.
Before we even think of getting any external support, we must change our culture and lifestyle and for me this is going to be the only way we can survive the hardships and the economic life.
Next week, Hon Reagan Okumu talks about land and investment in Acholi.