By Christopher Omara
There was uncontrollable jubilation at Da-Link gardens in Gulu on July 4, 2015 when Brig Charles Otema Awany, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF)’ Chief of Logistics and Engineering launched a complementary campaign against poverty in northern Uganda.
Brig Otema was chief guest at a function organised by 12 women groups within Gulu municipality who had gathered to honour him for his contributions and sacrifice in fighting the LRA insurgency and his continuous support to the business communities in northern Uganda.
Through their speaker Hon. Santa Obwoya, the women had earlier on pronounced July 4, an annual commemoration day for “Awany Foundation” in which women beneficiaries who will perform best each year from the loans and revolving funds mobilised will be rewarded for their hard work in improving their household income. That was a rare creativity and integration of diverse poverty eradication initiatives by both individual and government for greater impacts.
In his speech to the hundreds of women and youth, Brig Charles Otema started by appreciating the outstanding and visionary leadership of his Commander-in-Chief and president of the Republic of Uganda Gen. Yoweri Museveni whom he described as a rare gift from God. He said that if only Ugandans could listen to and put into practice the advice of the Commander-in -Chief, household poverty could have been defeated long ago. He challenged the political leaders from northern Uganda to show what they have done for their people in support of government programmes rather than reckless criticism without real impacts on the lives of ordinary people. Quoting from former president of the United States of America, J.F Kennedy (1961) – “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country” he urged the people of northern Uganda to actively participate and contribute towards the campaign against poverty as preached by Yoweri Museveni until it’s defeated - this is possible, he roared.
Brig Otema cautioned the women and youth against electing leaders who are not focussed on development. He assured his audience that since the NRA/NRM came to power in 1986, his commander-in-Chief has decisively won all the wars against the people of Uganda and that the campaign against poverty under the overall command of Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni will equally be won with the support of the population.
Interestingly, we later learnt that the UPDF Brig. had already donated two bulls for the function, but again when the jubilation intensified, he reached out to his aide and instantly declared Uganda sh12m revolving fund to the 12 women groups who attended the function and that attracted even more jubilation from the beneficiaries and many other onlookers who turned up to witness the rare occasion in support of poverty eradication and not a political rally as usual.
Some politicians who attended the function got challenged and that provoked Alfred Okwonga, the councillor LCV Pece division and proprietor of Gulu School of Nursing to declare sh39m interest-free loan to the Boda-Boda riders within Gulu Municipality and congratulated President Museveni for the operation wealth creation initiative that he said should be supported by all those who have the capacity to do so. Alfred Okwonga promised one month free computer trainings to all interested residents of Gulu municipality and also more revolving funds for women and youth groups. The inclusion of the information communication technology (ICT) dimension in wealth creation as explained by Okwanga left many people convinced that anything is indeed possible with effective deployment of new technologies and innovativeness. It was glaring that Operation Wealth Creation has taken another dimension in northern Uganda as other individuals declared their support for the programme and working in close collaboration with the UPDF district coordinators for greater synergy.
I was amazed today July 8, when available information from several traders and members from an affiliate association in Gulu indicates that Brigadier Charles Otema had already dispatched over sh1b to 3,700 members of Bongos Traders Saving and Credit Association, a SACCOS that he helped established few months ago as a strategy to launch his final assault on poverty. I was privileged to interact with one of the directors of the organisation David Bongomin a founder member who disclosed that together with other members, their plan is to cover the entire northern Uganda to provide trainings, accessible and low-interest loans to both rural and urban entrepreneurs in support of the government poverty eradication programme.
Bongomin revealed that Brig Otema is so passionate about supporting the poverty eradication campaign under the management of the UPDF and that is why he came out with the idea of establishing the savings and loan scheme to boost small-scale businesses, modernise agricultural production and promote value addition and support small-scale industrialisation in line with president Museveni’ vision for Uganda.
The writer is a former NRM senior mass mobiliser Gulu/Pader
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A UPDF brigadier declares war on poverty in northern Uganda