The Arapi village is located 22km Northeast of Moyo town at the border with South Sudan. But this remote village has got something famous.
Every rock in the area is limestone, a sedimentary rock primarily made of calcium carbonate and widely used in the construction industry inform of lime and cement.
The litter of shinny gravels, pebbles and boulders of limestone are found everywhere in the village adding to the fascination of Arapi’s beautiful scenery.
A white horizontal vein of limestone running the full length of Neri, the last hill before the Urugu-Gbari border is clearly visible many kilometres away.
The local residents sleep on this damn riches but they are some of the poorest people in the region.
To reach Arapi village, one has to drive to Metu trading centre along the Moyo-Laropi-Adjumani road and then branch off to head north.
The road to Arapi is rugged and so poor that our vehicle had to be parked several kilometres away and we had to make it to the mine field by walking.
The area has zero telecommunication signals of any kind, there is no electricity and the limestone is not mined for any commercial purpose.
It was only in 2002 when former state minister for the Northern Uganda rehabilitation, the late Agad Didi secured a concession agreement from the department of mines, surveys and geology to mine limestone in Arapi.
He consequently set up a processing factory that allowed the people to taste some short lived benefit out of the abundant precious stone.
Operated by his company, the Family Choice Uganda Limited, Mr Didi injected about sh200m to construct three concrete kilns at two sites where the mining and processing of lime was rudimentarily done.
Mr Didi’s company employed 100 workers mostly ex-soldiers and women who used hand hoes and chisels to dig out the white rocks.
The opencast mining resulted into clearance of large quantities of vegetation and left behind a wide jagged valley that is now been re-greened with natural vegetation.
Mr Augustine Nyuma, 73 who participated in the limestone mining ten years ago explains that a lot of firewood was burned to smelt the rocks.
“You first put firewood into the kiln tunnel, pour rocks on it, and add another layer of firewood. The alternating piling of rocks and firewood is repeated until the kiln is full. Then you set fire from an open outlet at the bottom of the concrete kiln,” he said.
When burnt, the white particles are scoped and sieved to produce quicklime. At full capacity, the factory produced 500 metric tons of quicklime every week. That would be sh260m at the current market price.
Mr Bernard Bessi, a former sub county chief of Metu said the limestone deposits were estimated to be the third largest in Uganda after Tororo and Hima and would have taken two centuries to be exhausted if this method of processing continued to be employed.
But the mining business ended with Mr Didi’s death in 2009. What is left now is a ghostly facility surrounded by a deafly silence where no human activity of note takes place.
Mr William Anyama, the Moyo district chairman says the collapse of Mr Didi’s mining business was because his motives were more driven by local politics since he was also the area member of parliament of West Moyo constituency.
Mr Anyama called on the central government that by law owns all mineral resources to gather and produce all the necessary scientific information and harness the private sector develop the Arapi limestone mines.
“Government is not good at doing business. What it should do is provide good road and sufficient electricity. Construct a bigger health unit and provide security because that area is towards the border,” he asserted.
Hima Cement shows interest
Mr Anyama disclosed that Hima Cement ltd, a subsidiary of the Kenya based Bamburi Cement ltd which in turn is owned by Lafarge of France has already shown interest in limestone prospecting in Moyo.
He says a month ago, geologists from Hima Cement ltd visited Arapi and took stone samples for analysis.
The results of their analysis are still being awaited but the chairman is optimistic that developing the limestone mining industry in Moyo would benefit the whole West Nile region by stimulating better infrastructure, jobs creation and market for agricultural produce.