The year 2015 will mark the 100th anniversary of the entry into force of the Anglo- Belgian Agreement of February 3, 1915, which accorded official recognition to the present boundary of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Anglo- Belgian Agreement took effect 21 years after Uganda was declared a British Protectorate on June 18, 1894. West Nile was the last, but one district to be added to Uganda. Karamoja followed in 1922. Right from its inception, West Nile was a multi- ethnic district consisting of four ethnic groups - Lugbara, Alur, Madi and Kakwa.
The international boundaries of Uganda cut across these ethnic groups. The Congo/Uganda boundary partitions the Alur and Lugbara tribes while the Sudan/Uganda boundary partitions the Kakwa and Madi tribes. Because of this, what happens in the Congo and the Sudan has a direct bearing on West Nilers. Developments in the DRC and the Sudan are naturally of interest to the people of Uganda in general, but West Nile in particular.
West Nile was originally part of the “Lado Enclave”, named after the river port of Lado located in the South Sudan. The enclave which consisted of territory which is today northern Uganda and South Eastern Sudan was part of the Congo Free State until 1910 when it reverted to Anglo- Egyptian control, as per the Anglo- German Treaty of 1890.
According to the 1890 treaty, Belgian King Leopold’s hold on to the territory would lapse at the end of his reign.
Another treaty signed on August 14, 1894, gave the Lado Enclave to King Leopold II on lease until his death in 1910. During the first decade of the 20th century, the British sought by force to establish total control over southern Sudan and to achieve this end, the Sudan- Uganda border was delimited in 1913 and amended in 1914 when Sudan ceded the southern tip of the Lado Enclave, i.e. West Nile, to Uganda Protectorate.
In 1912 and 1913, a joint Anglo- Belgian Commission mapped and drew the Belgian Congo/Uganda Protectorate boundary from Lake Albert north-eastward to the Congo/Nile watershed.
In 1913, a Sudanese/Uganda Commission delimited the common boundary on the ground between Bahr al Jabal and the Belgian Congo tripoint, near the present Ariwara.
The new boundaries were officially promulgated on April 21, 1914 by the British Government.
According to an order issued by the British Secretary of State, the area west of the River Nile, which was the southern part of the Lado Enclave, was transferred to Uganda Protectorate and became West Nile District.
In return, to the east of the River Nile, Uganda Protectorate transferred to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan the area from the parallel of 5° E up to the boundary with Ethiopia.
On February 3, 1915, these new boundaries were officially recognised by Belgium and Britain, the two colonial powers in the region. The new borders enabled Britain to finally realise her dream to control the waters of the Nile from the source to Cairo, Egypt. The search for the source of the Nile brought to Uganda the explorer John Speke who wrongly claimed that he discovered the source of the Nile in July 1862!
The booming Arua Municipality was founded in 1914 by A.E Weatherhead, the first District Commissioner of West Nile.
When Uganda achieved independence in 1962, there were only 18 districts listed in the Constitution. Most districts were carved out of ethnic groups except three; Bukedi, Kigezi and West Nile, which were multi-ethnic. In West Nile, English, Alur and Lugbara were used as working languages. The multi-ethnic character of the district was one of its strengths and I believe that is still the case for the region.
West Nilers can rightly feel proud of the significant contribution they have made, since 1915, to the economic, social and political development of Uganda. Our people and the region deserve to be treated at par with other regions of Uganda. We demand nothing more and nothing less.
I have taken note of my brother, Dr Sam Okuonzi’s opinion published in the Sunday Monitor of June 30 titled: “Pursuit of Lugbara chiefdom is justifiable” in reply to mine of June 23, 2013.
Dr Okuonzi’s article makes useful contribution to the debate, but it also contains several errors, innuendos and some wishful thinking. I am advised by reliable sources that his strong support for the so-called Lugbara chiefdom may be due to the fact that one of the candidates for the position of “Agofe” or Paramount Chief of the Lugbara, Mr Jason Avutia, hails from his Vurra constituency.
Much as I appreciate Dr Okuonzi’s support for a member of the constituency he represents as MP, the fact remains that historically a Lugbara chiefdom or kingdom has never existed; it is at best a figment of the imagination.
As I have argued before, the creation of a cultural leader for the Lugbara will not add value to the struggle of the people of West Nile and Uganda for unity, justice, peace and development.