KAABONG – When the president relinquished NAADS coordinators of their duties in 2014 to initiate what is today called Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), the hope, Euphoria was felt across the country, a country whose backbone has basically thrived on subsistence agriculture before and after independence.
Prior to the initiation of OWC, NAADS was the epitome of agricultural sector across the country, providing extension services to both off garden and garden services. With that in mind, when the president on 9 June 2014, during the hero’s day celebration initiated OWC as directive to replace NAADS, there was even a twinkle of confidence among Ugandans that the country’s agricultural sector was destined for a better future.
President Museveni’s decision to have the army replace NAADS coordinators was out of his frustration, that NAADS had failed to achieve his intended mission of modernizing agriculture.
With cabinet’s approval on 7 July 2014, OWC was rolled all over the country; army officers took charge of duties once under the supervision of NAADS coordinators. A new trajectory, therefore took shape.
Sad though, today the very inefficiencies for which OWC programme was born to address, still rock the project, one would say, the very demons for which NAADS was castigated are back to haunt OWC.
However, despite government’s erratic investment in Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), the gains are still lukewarm, mild a cross most parts of the country, murmurs among underprivileged locals crying foul play by politicians owning most projects, the entrenched corruption in procurement process of inputs are some among the many inefficiencies affecting a transparent implementation of OWC in areas of Karamoja like other parts of the country.
Our investigation into the strides of OWC in the districts of Kaabong, Kotido and Moroto, revealed an element of greed among LC1 committees as one of the problem, affecting OWC implementation, a project looked at as a wealth creating venture, but the tales from the people in this districts offered something different from the scripted objectives of OWC.
Community misgivings in the works of OWC
An interactive look into the strides made by OWC in Nameri village, Kaabong East Sub County, Kaabong district was such revealing, here a 70-year-old widow, Margaret Longoo testified how her 2 bulls and an Ox –plough she was listed to have received in 2018, ended up in the hands of the area LC2 chairperson Peter Taoi of Nameri parish.
By policy, the LC1 committees are mandated to select OWC beneficiaries but cries here indicate that the LC1 committees give priority to family members, and close relatives, against the creeds for which this project was created.
Under the baking heat, we managed to locate Peter Taoi, in an affirmative the gentleman denied grabbing OWC property meant for Margaret Longoo. Taoi’s whose home seats next to Nameri primary school; East Kaabong, portrayed total “innocence” despite our repeated inquest into the whereabouts of inputs meant for Ms Longoo.
“Who tells you I stole animals for that widow, I received animals as beneficiary, unfortunately, they died in 2019,” Mr Taoi chides. You don’t just accuse me without evidence, he added, if anything I was the right beneficiary not Ms Longoo.
The widowed Longoo, says how her quest for justice against the fraud, has yielded nothing, save for threats from Mr Taoi, “For the fact, I shared the matter with our priest at Kaabong mission, who advised me to let go, but stay in constant prayer,”
I am hurt, Longoo says, in her desperate situation she is helpless, I barely have anything, and the few hens in my compound have overtime been stolen.
In support of Ms Longoo’s narrative is Alfred Loru, former committee member in the LC1 committee for Nameri village, “the property was for Longoo, how it ended in other hands, is a puzzle for me. “There have been attempts by the aggrieved to have her OWC property, but she has hit dead end,”
Mr Loru confirmed as LC1 committee, their mandate in OWC basically ends at identifying the neediest; as member, and then LC1 committee team, we definitely did that, and accorded Ms Longoo the chance to benefit, sad though, I learnt this was exclusively abused.
In a region like Karamoja where women still fear to question men in authority, such cases of widows being cheated in the names of benefiting from government projects, could only be lingering in the minds of those widows cheated than in the outer communities they live in. Other widows like Malo Lochina, Stella Samal and Stella Nanya, all of Losogolo parish also had their frustration to share, saying time and again they have been registered, but nothing has henceforth come their way.
While in Kaabong our repeated attempt to have a perspective into the works of OWC in the district, which recently gave birth to Karenga district, was meant with fierce ridicule from the area OWC officer, “Who are you, and what are you doing in Kaabong, can you please leave with immediate effect, “the Kaabong OWC officer would sound on phone.
In the course of our investigation, we came a cross Florence Lokwang, former veterinary officer, trained by Veterinarios Sanfrontiers in 1980’s to combat animal disease, she confirmed that ignorance among their people has offered a serene environment for the corrupt to manipulate government interventions for their selfish gains.
“There is limited sensitization among people; most people here don’t know many government projects being implemented, so they are used as conduits, for the few enlightened to benefit from,” Ms Lokwang states.
The Sanfrontier trained retired Vet officer, who also participated in ending cattle rustling, acting as peacemaker between the warriors then and government on the other hand, insinuated that failure to have an evenhanded approach to the work of OWC has stagnated its gains.
“Projects destined for common good are monopolized by few politicians, elites in civil service, while the illiterate poor remain in humiliating poverty,” Mr Daniel Lokwang, retired Literature teacher at Kaabong SS.
“I vividly recall when I was chased away from Kaabong East sub-county headquarters as I inquired how animals were being distributed; worse though still, much of the information here remains concealed,” the 73-year-old explained.
Kaabong district leadership view
When the misgivings raised by the locals were put before the district LC5 chairperson, Hon Mark Abuko, he pointed fingers at the LC1 committee members, as the area where the project has also suffered much in terms of selection.
As a district council, ours has always been to bless the selection done at LC1 level in our own cabinet, the matters of who benefit in a given community is the mandate of the LC1 village committees, “As head of the district I can’t overlap into their work, now that cries have been raised as the head of the executive we will have to monitor the selection,”
According to Abuko, the level of dishonesty is growing; it is surprising that the people you view as somehow well off, are the ones who are even so desperate. “The entire population here is desperate for help, the ones you think are better off, are the “vilest,” the LC5 chairperson.
Mr Abuko says when OWC was formulated, the mandate to look for the vulnerable in the villages to benefit was placed under the LC1, LC2 committees, that has never changed, and because of the gaps in the supervision, the LC1 committees have used the visible flaws in OWC management, as a leeway to deny villages equitable distribution of inputs as when they come.
“I would also be unfair to blame LC1’s alone, the corruption is also at the top of this OWC implementation, and there are cases of delayed supplies, fake or adulterated inputs, inflated of prices, and concealed information,” the Kaabong district boss says.
Surprisingly, the district LC5 boss, revelation were also that, inputs that are comparatively not suitable for most parts of Karamoja like cassava cuttings, and oranges, are in some occasions dumped in the region, this is not adding value to us.
“If its livestock delivered, the purchase prices are so inflated compared to the inputs delivered, those are some of the misgivings that ought to be corrected otherwise the project is good,” he states
To complement on the community misgivings, Kaabong’s political head, says there are some groups registered in 2017,-2018 that have not benefited.
Mr Abuko adds to ensure the programme makes positive strides, the procurement process should be overhauled to favour home-based individuals, adding that by so doing farmers will be given home-based inputs that thrive in their areas.
“With goats or sheep our local breeds are of comparative advantage to farmers here, because they can thrive in this harsh weather, than others that have often failed to adjust to our weather,”
Mysterious selection among Panyangara people in Kotido district
While among the Panyangara people in Kotido district, the whines of the selection processes remaining a mystery like affair were much pronounced.
Listening to James Lokii, resident of Napumpum village, Panyangara Sub County, there is limited information on government projects, those who are charged with such duties have always sat on information. “For OWC the mode of selection has always remained a mystery; no word is passed in church, we are only treated to surprises, that so and so has got a goat, a cow, and the faces of those who receive are always familiar,”
“I get to know of projects when they are closing, those people running in cars are not good,” Lokii says.
In Loposa village, Panyangara Sub County, Kotido district, group members for Ekisil Ejok group, recount receiving animals under OWC, but all died, blaming the death on electrical branding, but the area OWC coordinator, Maj Simon Itee, disputes the claims brought up by the group as deceit, “Those electrically branded animals were given, before even OWC came to existence,”
One group member, Grace Akullo, recalls seeing the animals supplied to them struggle to breathe until they all died, taking us back to square one. “We need animals sourced from here locally, but unfortunately the breeds supplied are not adaptive to our weather,”
At Kalolet village, Losilong parish, Jie County, the entire village had never received inputs from OWC.
The area LC1 Joseph Abwos, confirmed, how he has never in his reign as LC1 presided over any handover of inputs from the government programme.
Maj Simon Itee, clarifies role of OWC coordinator in the programme implementation
By design, the officer (Maj Simon Itee) says that by policy, some of the raised issues absolve them of any wrong doing as coordinators, mine as head of OWC is to receive from the NAADS secretariat, and deliver to the beneficiaries.
Mr Itee adds as matter of policy the LC1 have the supreme power to select, but it’ is unfortunate, the powers to identify the vulnerable is being abused, and, “that is where a lot of misgivings by the community arise from,”
In our engagements with the communities, such are the cries we come across, but we can’t discipline such LC1 chairpersons.
He says the flaws and loopholes in selection are real, you find in a village the entire beneficiaries are related. “In some village among the Panyangara people in Panyangara sub-county, I had to take a hard decision, after I realized the sub-county chief had positioned all his family members to be beneficiaries,”
He notes that some malpractice at the local council, and sub-county level go on unnoticed, because of the connectivity between local council committee and sub-county verification committee.
Kotido Lc5 chairperson
Mr Ambrose Lotukei, LC5 chairperson Kotido district, says as much as there are flaws cited at LC1 committee level, OWC should also have proper and timely distribution of inputs, “We live in an era where the known rainfall pattern has long changed, bringing inputs when rains are virtually disappearing is wastage of funds,”
He confirmed as Karamoja, they receive maize, sorghum, Bull rush, beans and at times cassava cuttings but they are delivered late.
The district chairperson says, from the monetary point of view, the procurement procedures should be known to the respective districts, we are merely receivers with little knowledge of how much has been used to procure whatever has been handed to our people. “If OWC is looking at farmers going commercial, some of the inputs given still keep the farmers in survival culture of cultivation than for sale, 5 kgs of maize, sorghum is too small for one to go commercial,”
Mr Lotukei adds, the numbers of persons enlisted to benefit is always so small, yet national projects should entirely be inclusive without locking out others.
James Loru, Nadunget sub-county beneficiary
Among a handful of people who received improved Freshians for milk production is James Loru, a veterinary officer by profession, interestingly among this handful of beneficiaries, he is one of the few who has a surviving freshian; others lost theirs to either the harsh weather typical or negligence.
Testifying, Loru, the Moroto based farmers, hints that it has not been easy to raise the animal until the time it produced for him a calf, “we live in a heavily tick-infested terrain, being weak animals by nature, what I have passed through to have that cow give me a calf is, is a hell of problem and personal sacrifice,”
We were 3 people who received this Freshian cows in 2019, explained Loru, but since then, the other beneficiaries have lost theirs to disease.
Without holding back his reservations about the project, the Nadunget based farmer faults OWC for not having an element of farmer sensitization as it was when the project was fully under NAADS.
“We have a project today that has basically been under trial and error since its inception in 2014, farmers need to be challenged with knowledge, “Mr Loru explains.
Without standing to seem biased about the project, Loru adds, there is need to invest in research of breeds that could produce good quantities of milk, but at the same time adaptive to our weather, “The freshians we receive here are not adaptive, it’s by luck that some survive,”
Asked whether, he has started to harvest benefits, the Nadunget based farmer with time if the cows adapt to the weather, I will, but for now I would be telling a lie.
According to Mark Loli, Moroto district Agricultural officer, literally it is not worth castigating OWC, it has scored in all the technologies that have been implemented in the district save for weather vagaries that in one way or the other have dented projects.
In terms of percentages in livestock technologies, Mr Loli confirms Moroto has received heifers at 12%, female goats81%, pigs4% and Boran bulls3%. For grain technologies for period 2018-2019 under OWC, the district received 20,000 kgs of maize, Beans 0kgs, groundnuts 4,105%, sorghum 26,200kgs, cassava 3,096bags, mango seedlings 10,000, cowpea 8,000kgs and 40 beehives.