Okere is a parish in Adwari Sub-County, Otuke District. In Leb Lango, one of the dialects in Northern Uganda, Okere Mom-Kok can be loosely translated to mean that a baby shouldn’t cry or a baby who doesn’t cry. If a baby isn’t crying, then it’s smiling. The name of our village forms the basis our story because a smile is synonymous with hope, love, compassion, care, sharing, happiness and giving. Together with the community members, we are convicted to make our work be bedrock upon which the dreams, hope and a prosperous future of the village is built.
There are 14 villages in Okere parish each administrated by a Local Council (LC1) leader who is democratically elected by the village members. The villages are; Acandyang, Akwalakwala, Amoka Adong, Amon Oneno, Amukaluga, Amukogungu, Apaku, Ayiiloi A, Ayiloi B, Okere, Cike, Kamdini, Okere, Oketpur, Omukugungu. The parish has a population 3,072 people according to the 2014 Uganda Population Census. In total, there are about 640 households in the parish, 27% of whom are headed by women. Each village has an average population of 200 people and 80 households.
Located about 60KMs from the North Easterly direction of Lira City, Okere is about is suitated in the center of Otuke District which is headquartered a further 15 KMs away. Some villages in the parish are in the borderline with Acholi sub-region’s district of Agago.
Okere parish is generally flat, quite conducive for cycling. One of the my most favorite hobbies. Some years ago, the parish was vegetated only by dry natural savanah and shea trees which were unfortunately cut down both during the war and shortly after as people resorted to selling charcoal as the most ‘feasible’ and ‘cheap’ livelihood option.
One of the most affected trees were shea. Vitalleria Paradoxa (Nilotica) or what you know as Shea tree is worth millions in cash terms, leave alone their other health, ecological and biodiversity functions. In Okere parish, they are fast getting extincted due to unsustainable human activities. Shea trees are particularly prone to illegal cutting for charcoal because of their hard timber that presumably produce the world’s best charcoal product.
Just like all other villages in Otuke District, the suffering inflicted by both LRA war and the Karamojong cattle raids have been disastrous. The human and material losses incurred by the people can never be quantified. But what is certain is that, for decades, households and individuals have never been able to fully or even partially recover from such losses.
One of the households that bore the brunt of suffrage inflicted by war and conflict is that of Lasto Ogwal, a household our project is closely associated with. Lasto Ogwal was a visionary imbued with a relentless spirit of entrepreneurship and community development. In the mid1970s, his 200hectares farm located in Ayiloi village was a national model agricultural entity. The farm had more than 1000 herds of cattle with vast fields dedicated annually for the production of cotton which was a leading northern Uganda cash crop. For his role in promoting commercial agriculture in Uganda, he received a presidential recognition, an honor bestowed upon him by H.E Idi Amin Dada. The honor was packaged with modern farm equipment such as tractors which significantly heightened the productively and profitability of the farm.
As fate would have it, the incessant cattle raids that started in the late 1970s and continued for almost a decade to the late 1980s was huge slap in the face of Lasto’s commercial dynasty. The end of the cattle raids was followed by an increase in rebel activities mounted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA insurgency hit the last nail that led Lasto and his family (and the majority of the people in Otuke district) to run to Lira town for safety where he unfortunately was knocked dead by a speeding truck.
Because of these political and civic instabilities, Otuke district still remains one of the most undeveloped parts of northern Uganda in general and Lango sub-region in particular. Among other disadvantages, high illiteracy rates, bad roads and inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities make life in the area nightmare for the majority.
This is also coupled with extreme weather conditions — such as prolonged drought which is a common occurrence.
Public service provision continues to be a big development concern in Okere parish. For instance, only one health center with often few medical personnel and inadequate facilities serve the population. There are also only 2 public primary schools where pupils perform so poorly in national examinations. is compared to the national average. Slippery and bad roads, usually during rainy season make the parish severely isolated and detached.
The local economy in Okere is mostly hinged around agricultural activities which are conducted on a small and subsistence basis. Millet and simsim are the most grown crops which also have high commercial value.
Much of the businesses in Okere parish is conducted at Pat Oali, a weekly market located in Okwongo Trading Centre. In Okere, Sunday and Pat Oali are somewhat synonymous. On Sunday, church goers — who are mostly Roman Catholics (maybe 70%) head straight to the market not even first coming back home for lunch. At the market, both big and small trucks from Lira, Alebtong, Abim, Pader, Agago districts bring hundreds of traders who buy and sell various good ranging cattle to household products.
On Sundays, Pat Oali provides not only a marketplace for tradable goods and services but also a unique spot for social and leisure activities. People seated around marua pots are a common sight. A mix of both traditional rhythms and modern music play in disoriented harmony. Both sides of the road are usually filled to capacity and businesses are even conducted in the middle of the road. There is a common saying in Okere that only the most unlucky and/or sinful people die on Sundays — because if you die on a Sunday, no one mourns you apart from your close family members. People only start mourning you on Monday. Maybe it’s just a saying! But what is true is that no burial ceremony has ever been conducted in the history of the village on Sunday.
Okere City Project is situated in Ayiloi A village on Lasto Ogwal’s (RIP) family estate. A significant portion land in the estate has been specially gazette to supported the project’s development interventions. Whilst our focus is to intervene in the entire parish, our initial activities will be centered around Ayiloi village — somehow creating a magnetic economic hub that later expands to include the entire parish.
Our development interventions are holistic in nature with targeted solutions to the diverse and complicated challenges that continue to thwart progresses towards civilization, good wellbeing and prosperity within the village.
We believe that with continuous and constructive community engagements, fervent and visionary leadership, hardwork and determination, Okere City’s bold vision of eradicating poverty by widening economic and social opportunities will be achieved. This might take decades, but like our forefather Lasto Ogwal who casted the seeds by acquiring the estate, the current generation will continue to invest any resources, a cyclical journey which shall never cease even with the coming generations!
Everyday, many of us in Okere are reminded by our motto — “Yamo Akwo Koddo” which means a Living Wind Blows. And it isn’t just a saying! It’s a mantra. One which reminds us that despite the most impossible of odds, we should never stop to seek anythings that breathes freshness and a sigh of hope in our lives.
The writer, Ojok Okello, is the founder of Okere City Project.