Arua/Yumbe. The endless boundary conflict between Arua and Yumbe districts over ownership of Ewanga Sub-county has continued to inflict immense suffering on the taxpayers unless the two agree on a final position.
The once agriculturally rich area, now has its over 8000 people faced with the dilemma of what the local government of Arua or Yumbe has for them as several public structures and services remain in a dilapidated state. Though originally under Arua, Ewanga Sub-county, which gained its autonomy six years ago from Rigbo Sub-county but became fully operational June this year remains far and hard to reach area for Arua district except through Yumbe as the area is cut off by River Enyau as it enters River Nile.
Genesis of the conflict
Ewanga many years ago was a grazing area for elephants and according to Ali Musa an elder in the area, the Madi people used to hunt for animals there, until such a time some men from the Aringa community now in Yumbe joined them in hunting but would come and go back to their homes.
According to reports, Yumbe district is fighting to ensure that it has direct ownership and access to the River Nile and its associated resources, while some proponents say the conflict over Ewanga is being fueled by the prospect of huge oil resources underneath the area. The oil claim remains a myth as no geological study survey confirms it.
He says as the business continued, the people from Yumbe started spending nights at the homes of people in Ewanga as they waited to dry the meat of the animals hunted before going back to Yumbe to sell them.
What has become a pronounced conflict between Arua and Yumbe, took root after Yumbe district was curved out of Arua in 2001, when the then LC5 chairman Yumbe Ali Aluma started asserting powers over Ewanga only to meet resistance from Arua, which claimed ownership through Rigbo Sub-county.
Arua leaders speaks
The LC3 chairman Ewanga Sub-county, Samuel Adyebo, who is in his fourth month of service says the conflict made them non-functional in the last five years because he was reduced to Parish Development Committee Chairperson.
According to him after the Permanent Secretary Ministry of local government’s letter declaring Ewanga part of Yumbe early this year, service delivery was interrupted though the people remained tolerant.
“The low level of development in Ewanga is because we were a Parish and now we want to be a full Sub County so that we can push for our own share of the national budget,” Adyebo said.
The Chairman blames the political leaders in the two districts for spear heading the conflict, adding that some of them are interested in acquiring land in the area, which they believe is endowed with mineral resources.
The area MP for lower Madi Ismail Ogama has pledged 30 Iron sheets for roofing of the Sub-county offices once it’s built.
However Habib Ikule, the councilor Roga Parish says although Arua district tries to ensure that it plans and delivers services to the people of Ewanga, monitoring and maintenance remain low to the effect that boreholes remain unrepaired once broken down and schools have never received facelift services for over 10 years now.
“It is true we are receiving all services from Arua district with no single one from Yumbe, except that they remain inadequate since the population keeps growing,” says Ikule.
When the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Local government wrote a letter declaring that Ewanga is part of Yumbe and Arua district should immediately hand over all services to Yumbe, a mob of people from Aringa flocked the area demanding for immediate take over.
And as the angry locals reached Ariwa border with Ewanga, they broke down a road sign post erected by Arua district local government for upgrading a 10km road to a first class murrum and its being kept in the office of the LC3 chairman.
In education sector, the councilor decries the lack of a secondary or training institution in the area saying most of the P.7 candidates whose parents can afford either go to Obongi SS in Moyo, Odravu SS in Yumbe or go to join schools in Arua while the majority retreat to their homes to begin marriage life at an early age.
“Some of the women here go for treatment at Ariwa health center III in case of shortage of drugs here while some of the children from Yumbe also come to learn from Roga Primary School,” said Ikule.
The councilor Dumua Parish and also secretary social services committee Ewanga Sub County Modesto Amatre said: “Most of us do not know what is due to us as the people of Ewanga since we only wait to hear from those in Arua but with the two district local councilors we have sent there, we shall continue pushing for our share from Arua.”
But an encounter with the head teachers of the only two primary schools in Ewanga reveals the rot in service delivery in the education sector.
Florence Munduru, the head teacher of Roga Primary school says inadequate supply of clean source of water at the school forces the girls to drop out.
The dilapidated classroom block at Roga P.S has never been rehabilitated since 2001.
With no examination center, the head teacher says the 6 P7 candidates registered this year together with 16 from Ewanga Primary school, will be transported by motorboat through River Nile to sit for PLE at Envenga primary in Rigbo Sub-county and be brought back each day posing a big threat to their lives and the teachers that accompany them.
Also to note here is the challenge of teachers running away once posted because of the appalling conditions in the area and the school. According to Madam Florence, during rainy season, teachers do not sleep as rain water leaks all over their houses and that often times they are forced to miss classes because their clothes and other household items become wet and need to be attended to during the day.
Children swimming at Para landing site in Ewanga, where the P7 candidates of Roga and Ewanga Primary School are picked from in a boat and taken to sit their Exams at Invenga P.S in Rigbo Sub County Similarly, at Ewanga PS, only 8 teachers manage a population of 873 pupils in 8 classrooms most of which do not have desks, making the pupils to sit on the floor.
According to the head teacher, Mark Ondoa Elema, challenges of inadequate staff, classrooms, housing, silted boreholes at the school and rare visit by inspectors of schools, teaching and learning processes have greatly being affected in Ewanga.
“For example, when the girls are in their menstrual period, they just come here, pick pads and disappear to their homes until the cycle is over and then they resume classes,” said Elema.
Zablon Ezama the Male District Local Councilor Ewanga, together with the Female colleague Faimah Letiru admit that the area greatly missed out on political representation in the district local government council for a full five year term as a result of the conflict between Arua and Yumbe.
“We have been part of Arua as our Mother and if by any move we are declared to be under Yumbe, we shall rather opt to join our fellow Madi people in Obongi-Moyo district,” Ezama warned.
The two councilors who currently sit and deliberate in the council of Arua district say they will cooperate with the district political and technical team to ensure that Ewanga gets its share of the local government budget.
Arua leaders vow to keep grip on Ewanga
In an interview with the district LC 5 chairman Arua Wadri Sam Nyakua, a demand for government to undertake a transparent report over Ewanga involving the two parties remains high. Nyakua says Ewanga has been under Arua since Independence and will never go anywhere since there is no binding directive from any authority in Uganda to transfer Ewanga to Yumbe.
“The 2004 survey report over Ewanga was fictitiously disseminated to the leaders of West Nile under MAYANK. Why does the minister of local government keep a report for over 10 years?” Nyakua asked.
He further noted that Arua district will continue to deliver services to the people of Ewanga insisting that Arua’s concern is the people not resources in the area.
He added that the district recently received a letter from the 1st deputy Prime Minister Gen. Moses Ali stopping Arua from offering services to the people of Ewanga but they have out rightly rejected it, because it was intended to bulldoze and intimidate the local leaders of Arua.
Nyakua described the Ewanga impasse as conflict of politicians and questioned why the people of Yumbe were not voted for by the Ewanga people instead he and other leaders were voted for during the recent elections.
The secretary for social services Arua district, Stella Aletiru, says delivery and monitoring of services are ongoing in Ewanga despite the political feud over the area. According to Aletiru, the issue of where Ewanga belongs can best be handled in a referendum without suffocating the people over social services.
“We have inspectors appointed with Associate Assessors, who do inspection of schools in Ewanga, Infectious disease institutes also handling TB and HIV in the area and the Indicative Planning Figure IPF for 2016/17 has also come from Arua,” said Aletiru.
Meanwhile Hamza Manzu, the chairman works and technical services Arua district says because of the special nature of Ewanga…being far from Arua town, all efforts are in place to build Kia-kia Bridge to create direct access to Ewanga from Arua town.
He adds that over Shs 200 million was recently injected on road works in Ewanga and a contract has been signed in February this year with road gangs to maintain the roads.
“As Arua, we shall continue to protect the identity of the people of Ewanga because politically they are a minority and if left to Yumbe, can cause untold suffering for the Madi people,” Hamza said.
But according to the District Planner of Arua, Mr Shaphan Andema, the creation and operationalization of Ewanga Sub County is ‘illegal’ since it cannot receive Indicative Planning Figures-IPFs from the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development-MOFPED.
“Ewanga Sub-county is a local creation by Arua district and is recognized by the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic development (MOFPED) as a Parish under Rigbo Sub-county and the political leaders are aware of this. The status quo is that Ewanga remains a Parish,” said Andema.
The planner added that unconditional grant and Discretionary Development Utilization Grant (DDUG), which all other officially gazette Sub-counties receive, are missing for Ewanga because the MOLG has not recommended Ewanga as a Sub-county to the MOFPED.
He further notes that no money goes directly to Ewanga and that the area only relies on local revenue and does not have a Bank Account with the local government ministry because it has to be cleared by the Auditor General and is not coded.
In 2011, the district council Arua approved Ewanga as a Sub-county, the MOLG allowed it but before it could take off, Yumbe petitioned and the Ministry revoked it and since then it has remained a Parish under Rigbo Sub-county.
During the Census of 2014, 8338 people were enumerated in Ewanga and these were added to Arua district and during the recent elections, Ewanga was administered as an administrative elective area by the Electoral commission.
According to the district schedules accompanying IPFS grants for Sub Counties and Town Councils for FY 2016/17 Vote 503, Rigbo Sub-county under which Ewanga falls, receives unconditional grants for rural of Shs 21 million and DDEG-PRDP and LRDP of Shs 136 million which is shared among eight Parishes and 65 villages.
But the MP for lower Madi Ismail Ogama acknowledges the fact that the people of Ewanga are in dire need of services, which can only be fully achieved if they attain an independent status from Rigbo. He says all efforts will be put to ensure that the bridge at Kia-kia is constructed for access to Arua other than through Yumbe.
“It is true pupils are dropping out of school because the overhead costs at Ewanga are higher for the children in terms of accessing secondary education,” noted Ogama.
He added that the issue of the conflict may not be put to rest soon because it is now before the Ministry of local Government, who in turn will guide them on the way forward.
Yumbe leader’s response
The LC5 chairman of Yumbe district, Taban Yasin, condemns what he calls arrogance of Arua district not to surrender Ewanga to them, saying they are waiting for handover of Ewanga and will immediately commence service delivery in the area.
The LC5 Chairman of Yumbe, Taban Yasin. Photo by Robert Elema
He adds that their efforts to assume responsibility over the area have been hampered by interference by leaders from Arua and are waiting for them to withdraw so as to avoid clashes in service delivery.
The Member of Parliament for Yumbe South, Alioni Odria calls on the people of his constituency to be patient and avoid confrontation over Ewanga with the people of Arua.
During a recent thanks giving ceremony at Kulikulinga in Odravu Sub County, Odria urged the people to leave the issue of Ewanga to the Ministry of Local Government and wait for its final decision on the matter.
“Let us be careful while handling the issue of Ewanga and I know as soon as we actualize our plans, they will be with us…it is a matter of time,” said the MP.
It is not clear why the Ministry of local government is dragging feet over the matter but some sources intimate that the Minister is not ready to disappoint any of the two warring parties over ownership of Ewanga.
The conflict over Ewanga may only become history in the near future if the local government Ministry declares a final verdict on the pending petitions by Arua and Yumbe, or the people are made to decide on where they wish to belong through a referendum.