ARUA. Odromachaku is a border market located in Ayivuni Sub County along the Uganda-DR Congo border. This dusty little market is where many border residents earn their living through cross border business.

It also offers the shortest route to Eastern DR Congo’s Ariwara market which is about 17km from the area.

The hustle and bustle is most vivid on Monday and Friday where business in mostly agricultural produce as well as household manufactured goods is brisk.

Mrs Agnes Driwaru, a mother of four is one of the people who have mastered the art of doing cross border trade here, especially the buying and selling of goats and chicken.

Her routine on the market days involves waking up very early in the morning to head to the trading centre located some five kilometres from her home carrying no commodity but just some amount of cash in the pocket.

She used to deal in Congolese apparels (kitenge), but now she has shifted to buying and selling goats and chicken which according to her require less capital.

Targeting farmers and clients that ride on bicycles from distant places such as neighbouring counties and districts, Mrs Driwaru buys the goats or chicken from Ugandan farmers and resells to Congolese buyers at higher cost.

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Mrs Eunice Baiti, 21, says they prefer to resell to Congolese traders because Ugandan buyers only look for small goats mainly to pay dowry.

On the other hand when the middlemen buy items such as groundnuts and apparels from Congolese traders they resell to Ugandan customers.

Other major agricultural commodities traded at Odromachaku include cattle, pigs, cassava flour, millet, beans and sorghum while manufactured goods include bicycle spare parts, clothes and cooking utensils among others.

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How it started

Mr Simon Awuma, 64, a long time trader in Odromachaku says trading at the border post market began from a marginal level.

It was mainly a drinking joint for kwete, a popular local brew made of maize flour, sorghum and millet yeast. In fact Odromachaku got its name from this liquor business.

Mr Awuma says Odromachaku comes from the words Odro which refers to bad taste kwete and machaku means must not reach there.

Odromachaku therefore means a place not for bad liquor and sale of Kwete is still a big business here.

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“Without Kwete, my children would have perished. I resorted to this business when my house burnt and my husband refused to help me,” Mrs Imelda Ayaru, 39, the first of three co-wives says.

This resident of Nunu villa, Mbaraka parish in Ayivuni Sub County says she had lost everything to the inferno nine years ago and what she was left with was only fermented mixture of sorghum and maize flour.

What she had to do was to get yeast on credit to add to the roasted mixture. The following day, she squeezed the residue, filtering it with a piece of cloth to get the in demand kwete that she sold to rebuild her life.

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Mr Awuma says as Odromachaku gained popularity over time, some people began buying millet from Congo in big quantities.

The buyers initially commuted from other parts of Arua district, but eventually, they erected some shelters where they put their milling machines.

Then, trading in foodstuff picked up with women selling things like cassava flour, simsim, groundnuts and maize in order to buy paraffin, salt, soap and other household necessities.

The 1990’s instability in the West Nile region mainly orchestrate by the West Nile Bank Front and the Uganda National Rescue Front II rebels paralysed business and severely hampered the growth of Odromachaku.

The government was actually forced to establish a detach of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces at the place.

As insecurity gave way to peace and stability, the barracks was relocated and the former trenches turned into the live stalk auctioning centre.

Livestock business

In 1994, Pontio Edeba from Micu parish in Aroi Sub County suggested to colleagues at the Kwete cellar that they begin selling livestock at Odromachaku.

Among those who seconded the idea was Awuma whom the group proposed to be the livestock market chairman and he has remained in that position to date.

“We started selling near the produce market, when the owner of that place disturbed us, we moved to another place and finally the sub county purchased a 4 acre piece of land which they fenced off for livestock marketing,” he says.

To open the livestock market, Awuma travelled to buy cattle from Kumi and Soroti districts in eastern Uganda which he auctioned to the customers.

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He soon discovered that cattle from eastern region were dying so easily because they were not adoptable to the local climatic conditions. That risk also prompted customers to shun cattle from that region.

He changed to buying local breed cattle from Madi, Terego and Maracha farmers and sold it to his clients. Most of them were Congolese buyers and Ugandan butchers.

As the population of livestock brought for sale increased, the market managers designated a separate place for trading pigs and chicken.

Today, Odromachaku is a thriving business centre lined up with shops, bars, eateries and entertainment centres blazing Congolese lingala and local music.