Between 1950 and 1979 Pawor was a bustling transit market. It is situated 39km from Arua town and 29km from Pakwach along the Arua-Wadelai-Pakwach road, close to the shores of River Nile.
Though dusty, its location was strategic. It was along a short-cut route linking Arua, the biggest town in the West Nile region to Pakwach, the region’s gateway to the rest of Uganda.
Pawor was popular for fish such as mudfish, land fish, electric fish, and tilapia among others and the fish catch was impressive. It also doubled as a collection centre for cotton, by then, one of the most important cash crops of the region.
These were boosted by the unsurprising but popular commodity, the local brew known as enguli.
An area resident Mr Jimmy Ali, 70, says Pawor was a popular destination for AB Wadrif bus that would take travellers from Arua to the railway station at Pakwach and come back with returnees.
Mr Gamdad Khalfan a.k.a Gamo by then a transport officer of Arua motor dealers, a company owned by the legendary Khalfan family, was one of Pawor’s frequent visitors.
Just like myriads of other transporters, Gamo transported people between Arua and Pawor and slept at its lone but vivid hotel, the Nile View hotel that was owned by Ali himself.
Affluent Congolese traders from the former Zaire now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo constituted the bulk of Pawor’s foreign clientele.
Fall from grace
Ali says that the war that ousted former president, the late Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada in 1979 marked the beginning of Pawor’s fall from grace.
The civil wars that engulfed the region following Amin’s departure only served to exacerbate the situation. And as cotton’s position as a major regional cash crop became increasingly challenged by other crops leading to reduction in its economic importance, the cotton store at Pawor closed down.
Nonetheless, Pawor continued limping, aided by one major commodity- fish. The Parabok landing site remained a reliable source of fresh fish for Pawor and it stayed that way until 2016 when the deadly Salvinia molesta weed invaded and covered the water body.
The fish catch dwindled as fishermen crammed wooden canoes in small patches of open water in between the deadly but free floating aquatic fern and other water hyacinth.
With the Parabok landing site becoming insignificant fishermen shifted to Amuru district side of the river which still has large portions of open water.
The change of fishing location meant that business women like Scovia Ayat who used to buy their fish from the landing site to start voyaging across the river to Amuru where the fishermen relocated.
She crossed to set a base in Amuru from where she buys fresh fish, smokes it and also brews enguli before crossing back to sell the fish at Pawor market.
After selling all her stock, Ayat buys fermented cassava flour which she uses for brewing the local intoxicant.
She says she buys fish at sh20,000 and sells it at sh50,000 while the cassava flour bought at sh20,000 fetches sh30,000 when brewed into liquor.
She spends sh6,000 twice a week crossing river Nile on Wednesdays and Saturdays which are the Pawor market’s trading days.
Ayat, 33, had two children when Parabok landing site ran out of fishing activity, after setting up base on the Amuru side of the shore, she separated with her first husband and cohabited with another man with whom she got her third child.
For Mrs Lilli Pachulin, 45, a mother of six children, the demise of fish as a major commodity that she had been selling when she was just 12 years old meant that it was time to venture into selling other merchandise.
She now buys beans, potatoes, tea leaves, handkerchiefs and arrows from Arua town which she sells at Pawor market.
Some audacious traders even now buy fish from Arua town and take to sell at Pawor in a major reversal of fortunes, says Richard Akera, who has been Pawor markets revenue collector for six years.
He says their collections from market dues has dramatically fallen from close to sh3m a month to just about sh2m currently.
Old as the market is, Pawor traders still sit in the open under the scorching sun to go about with their business. Others sit under the shades of natural trees as there are no lockups.
Ali’s famous Nile View hotel was turned into a disco hall by his son while his daughter Ms Agnes Adage is struggling to maintain the legacy of the hotel by cooking and vending food in a squeezed, rickety structure half of which is made of papyrus mat.
The landing site has turned from a fishing ground to a swimming pool for naked children. It is also the spot from where women and girls fetch water for domestic use in the waterstressed area.
Hope for revival
Mr Richard Orwoch, the Pawor sub count council chairman says any hope for revival for Pawor rests with the government taking a deliberate move to tackle the Salvinia molesta weed.
There should also be a suspension of fishing for some months to allow natural replenishing of the fish stock, he recommends.
Orwoch reasons that even if the residents suffer in the short term due to such a measure, they would enjoy in the long run when they have plenty of big fish to catch.