FRUSTRATION is everywhere in Kaabong, Kotido district. Emotions are running high. The sub-district is cut off from the rest of the world. Even tourists can no longer access Kidepo National Park situated in the area.
The 19-metre high Kaabong central bridge, the only bridge in the area, collapsed over a month ago. This has brought many activities to a halt.
Worried parents watch their children return home from school. The level of the fast running water at the bridge is twice the height of the children. Moreover, torrential rains are not about to subside.
â€œGo tell the world about our suffering,â€ chanted a crowd confined to riverbanks, where they get shelter from the heavy downpour and the resultant floods.
Six sub-counties out of nine in the sub-district, have been cut-off from the district headquarters. The bridge was the only gateway to the outside world. Worse still, even extension workers cannot operate.
â€œOur suffering seems to be just beginning. Itâ€™s now part of the dayâ€™s programme to monitor formations of the cloud,â€ says Angella Armstrong of Biafra parish. â€œAs soon as we see rain drops, we struggle to cross the bridge before water levels rise.â€
Also cut-off is Kidepo National Park, Kathile, Kalapata, Karenga, Kapedo, Kaabong rural and Lolelai sub-counties.
Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), Karamoja Programmes Implementation Unit (KPIU), disarmament and Schoolsâ€™ Facilities Grant, are some of the activities now on the brink of closure.
But for a community heavily dogged by superstition, foregone conclusions have been reached. Many residents support the on-going disarmament programme, but they say gods disapprove of the exercise beyond the bridge.
â€œThe UPDF are responsible,â€ some Karimojong say. â€œThey felled overgrown trees Ecokei around the bridge. The trees were synonymous with gods.â€
To some people, such talk is not only an unfounded and evil, but also detrimental to the communityâ€™s development. People say Karamoja maybe semi-arid, but many seasonal rivers crisscross the region.
Catastrophe befell the area on October 30. Residents sang in praise of the first rains after a prolonged drought. But when the skies cleared, it was only bad news.
The Kaabong Bridge was half washed away. Karamoja elders recall the bridge suffered the same fate in the 1960s and 1980. Two women drowned in the waters. â€œI am telling you, we could not see even the remaining metal frame,â€ said Gabriel Loiki.
Kaabong Bridge was constructed in the 1940s. The portion that was recently washed away, is an extension constructed in the 1950s.
Possible reasons for the collapse of the bridge include the intense sunshine, which was disrupted by abrupt heavy rains, and the bridgeâ€™s age.
When the UPDF, now deployed in the region for disarmament took there heavy military equipment, it was to be just a matter of time before disaster struck.
Fortunately, when it did, nobody was there. Torrential rains had held everyone hostage at home.
Six years ago, the journalist fraternity in Uganda lost prominent journalists Rashid Mudini and Richard Tebere in this area. The two Monitor editors were participating in a motor rally race when their vehicle plunged into Nalakas Bridge outside Kidepo National Park.
Since then, Nalakas is just undergoing repair. Koberio, another bridge the same height and length, a short distance away, is cracked.
Loyoroit bridge in Labwar county is another example. It has just been reconstructed, but is now in a sorry state. The problem lies in shoddy work done on the bridges.
An outcry by residents, attracted an urgent response from Kampala.
Unfortunately, a fact-finding mission team dispatched from Kampala, did not deliver its results in peace. On their way to Kampala, Konyâ€™s Lordsâ€™ Resistance Army (LRA) ambushed them at Ogwete on Achanpii-Obalanga Road between Lira and Katakwi.
Six members of the team, including the mechanical central works boss in Kotido, Alex Wangiza, his Moroto counterpart, Vincent Aporu, their accountant and three escorts were killed.
â€œWe never anticipated such an occurrence. Our report to Kampala was effective. It resulted in engineers from the Ministry of Works and the in-charge of works, eastern region, to come to our rescue,â€ says Apollo Mayito, the assistant engineer, civil works, Kotido. â€œMy boss took the team around and before their departure, they recommended a diversion.â€
â€œThe disaster,â€ Mayito adds, â€œWould have been even graver had the visiting teamâ€™s driver known the road geography. He was far behind when the leading vehicle was attacked.â€
Bullets hit the cabin and the escorts. Mayitoâ€™s boss had chosen to accompany his visitors, who found their escape route as soon as the tyre of the vehicle in front was set on fire.
The attack took place on November 4, 2004, but up to now, the bridge is not yet rehabilitated. The ministry of works, Transport, Housing and Communication, recommended a short leave for its staff who survived the ambush to enable them overcome their trauma.
But for the suffering people of Kaabong it is hope against hope.
Floods cut off Kidepo park