Edward Onyango cleans the last of his three large saucepans, as the night takes over Tororo town. Onyango is one of the various chapatti sellers in the town. He has his stall on the Tororo-Mbale road.
The 25 year old has lived here since he was 13. â€œI have never been as worried as I am now about the uncertainty of our town. I have heard that it is going to be taken away,â€ he says. Taken by who and to where, he does not know. Nonetheless he vows: â€œWe shall not allow it to happen. We will fight to death.â€
To the right of the town, the huge rock from which the name Tororo was derived hovers over the town like a ghost. If the legendary Tororo rock could speak, it would say who approached it first. The rock both the Jopadhola and Iteso claim to have historical ties with, would say which side it wants to be if the district is split.
Initially, the present-day Tororo district was called Budama. It was later split into West Budama and East Budama. East Budama was later renamed Tororo county and it included present-day Tororo municipality. When Tororo was given municipality status, it was divorced from the county. Today the district has West Budama, Tororo county and Tororo municipality as separate political constituencies.
Tororo town was a conduit and military base for British colonialists, especially during the two world wars. It was a recruitment centre and a staging ground for expeditions to North Africa, especially through Benghazi in Libya. This base attracted developments that later formed Tororo town. Most of the old buildings in the town were erected by Indians in the 1920s and 1930s.
Sometimes referred to as Badama, the Jopadhola settled in present-day Tororo towards the end of the 16th century. They were part of a large group who migrated from Sudan via northern Uganda.
On reaching West Budama, a smaller group settled there, while the majority proceeded to the western end of Lake Victoria, where today they are known as the Jaluo. For centuries, the Jopadhola fought for territory with all neighbouring tribes except the Iteso. Most notable are the Banyole, who are still very bitter with the Jopadhola for grabbing their land and evicting them from the areas around Tororo.
The Jopadhola insist that they came to this area before the Iteso. â€œWhen you mention Tororo, people immediately think about the Jophadola,â€ says LC5 chairman Emmanuel Osuna. â€œSo to claim that Tororo is no more you are infringing on the existence of an entire tribe.â€ Osuna maintains that the Jopadhola coined the word Tororo, which means â€˜season of mist,â€™ a reference to the mist that used to cover the hill in the mornings.â€
â€œThese people (Iteso) were brought here by our grandparents. They came to look after our cows. Through the years, they intermarried with us and other tribes and we co-existed. They are taking this friendship for granted now,â€ he says.
Like the Jopadhola, the Iteso claim they are the ones who coined the word Tororo for the rock.
According to former minister Paul Etyang, the Iteso migrated from Sudan.
On reaching present-day Karamoja, the elderly ones decided to stop trekking and were named Karimojong. Some young people remained with the elderly. Etyang explained that the word Karimojong was created from two words: Ekaraki and Amojong. Ekaraki means failure to move further and Amojong refers to an old person.
Those who decided to proceed southwards, leaving the old men behind, were named Atesia, implying that they were venturing into the unknown or taking a risk that was likely to lead to their death. When they reached the hill that is called Tororo hill or rock today, they again had disagreements on which direction to take. Some wanted to turn left, while others wanted to use the route on the right.
â€œThose who passed on the left ended up in Kenya, while those who passed on the right ended up in Bukedi,â€ he explains. Because the groups had disagreed on where to pass, says Etyang, the rock was named Tororo. He explains that in Ateso, Tororo means â€˜where to passâ€™.
He says todate, when the Iteso of Tororo speak, a Karimojong understands at least 80% of what he is saying. â€œThis is evidence of the link.â€
Who owns Tororo?
Whereas it may not be easy to establish which tribe came to Tororo first, figures from the 2002 census show that the Jopadhola are the majority in the municipality and the district at large.
They constitute 57% of the districtâ€™s population, while the Iteso are 32%. In the municipality, Jopadhola are 29.5%, followed by the Iteso, 22.4%, Bagisu, 11.5%, Basoga at 6.2% and Banyole at 5.6%.
Other groups in the municipality include the Basamia, Bagwere, Baganda, Acholi and Langi. All the counties have both Jopadhola and Iteso. In Tororo county, where the Iteso are the majority, the Jopadhola make up 25% of the population. Throughout the district, the Jopadhola and Iteso have intermarried widely. Tororo county MP Geoffrey Ekanya, for instance, is born to an Etesot father and a Japadhola mother.
With a population growth of 2.4% per annum, it is projected that by 2010, Tororo district will have a total population of 838,600, West Budama county is projected to have 440,100 inhabitants, Tororo county 327,500 and the municipality, 71,000.
Evolution of Tororo district
The district, formerly called Bukedi, was renamed Tororo in the 1980s when the Government abandoned the naming of districts according to tribes. By then the main tribes in Tororo district were the Jophadhola, Iteso, Samia, Bagwere and Banyole, colloquially referred to as â€œUnited States of Ugandaâ€. Over the past 12 years the various ethnic groups, in their respective counties were given district status, leaving mainly the Jopadhola and Iteso in Tororo.
First, Pallisa was cut off to accommodate the Bagwere, then Busia was cut off to accommodate the Samia and Butaleja was carved out to accommodate the Banyole. Because of the various splits, Tororo is now among the five smallest districts in Uganda. For example, the distance between the Tororo-Busia border and the Tororo-Mbale border is only 21miles.
The agitation for a district status for the Iteso of Tororo started in 1998. It reached a peak in 2005 when President Yoweri Museveni visited the area.
While attending a rally near Mukuju sub-county headquarters, an Itesot moved forward and ate a live rat to demonstrate that they had a distinct cultural identity from the Jopadhola. â€œWe shall eat more of these rats if Tororo county is not granted district status,â€ he said.
Subsequently, Museveni instituted two commissions of inquiry, one led by Professor F. Byarugaba and another led by Dr. Crispus Kiyonga.
Both commissions recommended that Tororo county be given district status and renamed Mukuju, while the municipality remains with the mother district Tororo. To confirm this, a letter was written by the Minister of Local Government, Tarsis Kabwegyere, on August 22, 2005. â€œI confirm that Cabinet approved a creation of a new district leaving Tororo to be composed of West-Budama and Tororo municipality,â€ the letter read.
The Iteso rejected this position, saying the commissions had been swayed by strong personalities like Fox Odoi, a Japadhola, a former legal assistant to the President.
Then, in a dramatic U-turn, the current local government minister, Adolf Mwesigye, announced a plan to split the district into two and drop the name Tororo. The ministerâ€™s recommendation was that the new districts should remain along the current county boundaries, meaning that the municipality stays with Mukujju.
While the Iteso are celebrating, the Jopadhola are protesting. The terms used in the ministerâ€™s statement shocked the Jopadhola. They included words like â€˜eraseâ€™ Tororo district and â€˜Tororo district will cease to exist.â€™ The Jopadhola agree that if Tororo county wants to break away, it can do so.
However, they disagree that the name Tororo be erased or that the municipality goes to Mukuju. â€œWhen this municipality started in 1923, it was owned by us,â€ says Simon Peter Opio, speaker of Tororo district council. â€œThere is no reason to take it away from us.â€
â€œIt is our history, we own it and we have never asked for a district,â€ says Tororo LC5 chairman Osuna.
â€œWhy is it only our district that is being killed? Why is our history being tampered with?â€ asks Okoth Owor, the councillor for Peta.
He argues that Tororo municipality, an autonomous entity with its own administration, an MP and a mayor, can decide where to go.
â€œWe have never been consulted on this issue, neither have we demanded that we be given to Mukuju,â€ says John Ochwo, councillor for Eastern division. He said the municipality has a right to decide where to go.
Jopadhola MPs Emmanuel Otala (West-Budama South) William Oketcho (West-Budama North) and Grace Oburu (Tororo Woman MP) also stress that they have never petitioned to have their district split. â€œWe feel very well served in the current situation. We have never debated or suggested a name like Kisoko,â€ says Oketcho.
He argues that at no time has there been an agreement that Tororo ceases to exist. â€œWe have got a long historical attachment to Tororo district with its headquarters at Tororo municipality.â€
The Iteso, on the other hand, do not see why the name Tororo should not be dropped.
Etyang states that the people of Tororo county have been agitating for this for the last 10 or so years. â€œThis decision leaves West Budama alone whether or not the Jopadhola have asked for a district,â€ he argues.
He says it is virtually impossible for Tororo municipality to remain with West Budama because it was part of Tororo county before the municipality was created. For this reason, the new Mukuju county has the right to have its headquarters in Tororo town.
War over wealth
If the split finally goes ahead, West Budama will lose the most in terms of property. It will lose the key industrial town of Tororo, which has become a hot cake following the discovery of huge phosphate deposits, the revival of Tororo Cement factory and the planned construction of an inland port.
The demand and price of land in Tororo has been rising. All hospitals in the district, notably the government-owned Tororo Hospital and the missionary St Anthonyâ€™s Hospital, are in the municipality, as are major schools like Tororo Girls, St. Peters College and Manjansi. Tororo rock, the districtâ€™s pride, is also in the municipality. â€œWe have, through the years, contributed to the creation of all these things. Losing them under these circumstances is not only brutal but callous,â€ Osuna says.
The new Kisoko district would not have any town worth writing home about, save for the small Nagongera and Mulanda trading centres. The site of the proposed district headquarters has nothing more than county offices surrounded by aluminum huts. The Local Government Act provides for the sharing of properties if a district is split.
In this case, however, apart from sharing district vehicles, chairs and computers, there is nothing much that Kisoko will take from the mother district. And given the limited economic activity in a county with no serious urban centre, it will become a revenue-deprived district. This hurts the Jopadhola, who say they have put most of their investments in Tororo town. â€œWe have properties here, because we all along thought that this was our town,â€ says Ephraim Ochwo. â€œWe are not leaving them.â€ Without resources, Kisoko will have to scavenge hard, if it is to generate any meaningful revenue.
The main reason being forwarded by the Iteso for splitting Tororo is that they are marginalised by the Jopadhola. â€œMost of the resources are taken to West Budama and yet the Iteso are the most productive people,â€ says Etyang.
MP Ekanya says when the Government sends grants, West-Budama gets the largest share because it has a bigger population.
However, the Jopadhola do not agree with this claim, whether it concerns administrative matters or the provision of services. The district chairman Osuna insists that neither the political nor the technical positions of responsibility are dominated by people from West Budama. While the LC5 chairman is from West-Budama, his deputy, Martin Etole, is from Tororo county. The chief administrative officer is a Kumam from Kaberamaido and his deputy is from Tororo County, as is the chief finance officer. The district education officer comes from Bunyole, while the production coordinator is from Pallisa. As far as provision of resources is concerned, Osuna says Tororo County has got the best of the resources, including the best schools, best roads and best water sources. â€œWas it marginalisation when I fought to have the inland port constructed at Malaba?â€ Osuna asks.
The ministerâ€™s proposal to split Tororo is now before Parliament. The fate of the district lies with the local government committee. The MPs will then debate the matter on the floor of the House before they finally pass or reject the districts.
People who have misgivings about the proposals are free to take their grievances to the committee for consideration.
Is it time up for Tororo?