Unleashing Prosperity: A local market in Obongi District with significant promise
November 8, 2023
In the heart of Itula Subcounty, nestled alongside the picturesque banks of the River Nile, lies a bustling community market with a promise as vast as the river itself. October 2023 witnessed the dawn of an extraordinary venture aimed at enhancing local economic development, one that holds the potential to influence not only the local and national Ugandan landscape but also continental prosperity.
Seizing Existing Opportunities
As we waited for the ferry's arrival, set to deliver us across the 0.91km Laropi crossing of the River Nile towards Moyo, we had the pleasure of savouring juicy tangerines, a delight that hinted at the richness of Moyo District's hills. These tangerines, plucked from these bounteous lands, were made available to ferry travellers by a local woman trader. She was not alone; several traders had their merchandise ready to offer to the daily crowd that gathered with the ferry's arrivals and departures.
The goods ranged from fresh and smoked fish to local delicacies, edible roots, an assortment of fruits and vegetables, and more. The bustling ferry crossings have supported countless families, fostering livelihoods for those involved in these businesses. Thus, it was no coincidence that we found ourselves joining hands to boost local trade with Government representatives from the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, Ministry of Local Government, Government representatives from the three Districts of Obongi, Lamwo and Adjumani, our counterparts in the humanitarian development and peace space – the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), United High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), VEDCO, World Vision International and CEDOVIP – and importantly thousands of community members from Obongi District (both host communities and refugees). The mission was about commissioning the modernized Itula Subcounty market, the largest in Obongi District, with the goal of driving local economic development through trade.
On the 17th of October, just eight days after Uganda celebrated its 61st Independence Day, this vital community infrastructure was presented to the community. The spotlight was on the market's potential to transform the economic outlook of a multitude of community members. During the Independence Day celebrations, the President of the Republic of Uganda H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni emphasized the importance of deepening community prosperity through Ugandan and Pan-African markets. With borders near South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the potential for the region’s agricultural abundance, including sesame, cassava, sorghum, maize, fruits, vegetables, and abundant fish from the River Nile, is substantial.
A Regional Perspective
Years of conflict in neighbouring countries have given rise to a significant number of refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A large number of the refugee population residing in Uganda have been hosted across some of these West Nile Districts. In Obongi District itself, the refugee population mirrors that of the host communities according to data from the Government and UNHCR. Recognizing this challenge, UNDP and (KOICA) embarked on a journey in 2019 to empower both host communities and refugees.
Under the Uganda Host and Refugee Community Empowerment Project (UHRCEP), the partnership focused on interventions aligned with Uganda's policy framework for refugees, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). The goal was to expand community opportunities for local production and strengthen production value chains. The commissioning of the market highlighted the collaborative efforts of partners under the project. The KOICA Country Director and UNDP Resident Representative both recognized the significance of markets as essential centers for societal transformation through enhancing local commerce, facilitating cultural exchange, and strengthening societal interactions. The project had simultaneously supported the communities to access land and sesame farming inputs as part of upgrading the cassava and sesame value chain. This market would by extension be critical as part of the value chain, when the cassava and sesame planted in over 3,221 acres of land across the districts was harvested.
A Market for the Sustainable Development Goals
This Itula Subcounty Market, strategically located along the Obongi-Moyo road, boasts immense potential to drive local trade and economic growth. Obongi's Resident District Commissioner emphasized the importance of local commerce in shifting the fortunes of the district's population. While making his address, he invited farmers from across the subcounty to the podium, to showcase to the public their rich products, but more importantly use this occasion to demonstrate the shear potential of the farms in Obongi District.
The market's design and potential was met with praise from leaders in neighbouring districts. While touring the facility and stalls that had been established in and around the market and also viewing the associated facilities such as the water harvesting facilities, sanitation systems, and a breastfeeding room, the Resident District Commissioners from Lamwo and Adjumani commended the results from this partnership. They appreciated the market committee for consistently engaging with the contractor in ensuring quality of work and that their needs as expressed in the course of construction were all taken into consideration. They also appreciated the District leadership for expanding road access around the market to ensure products could be delivered and collected without any limitations. They also called upon the market management to ensure equality in distribution of stalls and spaces in a way that represented the population dynamics.
The Obongi District Local Council Chairperson (LCV) recognized these as important elements for sustainability in general but also the great potential for the market being at the center of expanding communities’ horizons and choices, emphasizing that such grand projects were of transformational value.
In the wake of global crises, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) representative recognized the market's pivotal role. It promises not only to benefit Obongi District but also to uplift a larger segment of the community throughout the West Nile region, fostering self-reliance in the face of adversity.
The Itula Subcounty Market stands as a beacon of hope and prosperity, a testament to the power of collaboration, and a symbol of resilience for the local communities and refugees that it serves. As it takes center stage, it offers a promising future, where local commerce and unity combine to pave the way for economic growth, not only in Obongi but also across borders and into the hearts of countless people. The Itula Subcounty Market is more than just a marketplace; it's a bridge to prosperity for a significant part of the population.
By David Maina, Humanitarian Development and Peace Nexus Specialist