Mr Buni Nobert has been operating a motor boat on the routes of Rigbo, Rhino camp, Awuvu and across the Nile to Amuru for the last 3 years. Juakali as they call the boat is in a group of three other boats plying the same route although the final destination across to Amuru district on a given day is varied.
Hundreds of people board their boats on market days (Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays) heading to “Kampala” landing site market in Amuru district, Gazi market and sometimes Ocindu that he says the Acholi people call Tero Okudu.
Despite ethnically belonging to different groups, 55 year old Benoni Ndema, a Ma’di himself says the Acholi and the Lugbara communities are co-existing peacefully. Benoni who has 4 wives has lived on the Amuru part of the Nile since 1992 due to this cordial relationship.
Buni’s boat is wooden and powered by a petrol engine, he says Juakali can carry over 100 people and their luggage at once, some of his frequent customers are sellers of second hand clothes, traders in general merchandise like soap, sugar, while a bulk of the people go there to buy farm produce, Goats, chicken, cassava flour, bananas just to name a few.
On special days like marriages, funerals and any other big gatherings, Buni’s boat is hired for transportation across the calm waters of the river Nile. But the risk is his lack of life jackets to the passengers which may onetime cause a catastrophe.
27 year Old Pilot Droma, as he is commonly known, is another operator of a boat; he has been engaged in the activity for 15 years after initiation and training by his father.
Mr Droma says charges range from 5000 shillings for the furthest distance from Rigbo to Kampala landing site, 4000 shillings from Rigbo to Amuru, and 3000 shillings for Rhino camp to Kampala landing site and the nearest Awuvu to Kampala landing site for 2500 shillings
“Our boat can use about 20 liters for a complete trip (to and fro), we pay 5000 shillings at the landing site for clearing the path” Droma says (as one approach the docking point, the water is covered by vegetation that needs to be cleared periodically to allow passage for the boats). Despite the expenses, Droma says he can make 400,000 shillings each day from the business on a good day, there are no additional charges
The Biggest challenge Droma says is rain during travels, tarpaulins can only be provided for the passengers because the operator has to have a clear sight of where he is headed leaving him exposed to rain
Saidi Nasur hails from Rigbo sub county and owns 6 boats, 5 of these operate in Obongi landing site in Moyo district but on the same waters of river Nile and only one is left plying the Rigbo-Rhino camp-Awuvu-Kamapla landing site route
Saidi says his boat was purchased from Wanseko for 5 million shillings although as a second hand after a 2- year usage by the previous owner, he has used it for 4 years already and expects his boat to last on the waters for at least some 4 more years
I am curious to know the mode of transportation of the boat from its manufacturing place to its current work station “a smiling Saidi says it used the river Nile sailing from Wanseko at the shores of Lake Albert under the Pakwach Bridge until its arrival at Erago, its main docking point in Rhino camp sub county; Mr. Nasur narrates having used over 60 liters for this movement up to Erago.
He made this decision to buy a boat from far despite Boat construction taking place at the shores of the Nile at Rhino camp, Saidi says the Boats here are weaker because they are mainly joined using Nails, but his Boat from Wanseko is firmly bolted to accommodate humans and cargo. The 5 million was although meant for the wooden body of the boat, the petrol engine costs a whopping 9.5 million shillings; Saidi purchased his engine from Kampala and the tank has full capacity of 25 liters. With no automatic gadgets fixed to read the distance covered, he has no idea what distance the 25 liters would cover.
In 2016, the government brought a ferry at Awuvu landing site that has been earmarked to link Arua district to Amuru and the rest of Uganda, however residents say, the ferry has never fully kick started operations and is grounded at the site to date
Some of the residents have attributed the grounding of the ferry to the lack of access roads across the Nile at the side of Amuru district. Across Kampala landing site, Motorcycles are mainly used as mode of transportation, the terrain is mountainous and it’s always a struggle to get the luggage at the river shore; but once at the shore, the boats take over and the rest is easy work.
The day I sailed across the Nile in “Juakali’ boat, I counted it as luck and a privilege, but it was a case of the end justifying the means, for starters I am not used to life on the waters and then I thought about life Jackets and if any accident occurred; but yet such fear was quickly erased as the boat sailed further into stability; this part of west Nile is arguably one the least popularized, its only until you reach here for some reason that you discover the hidden beauty, the calm clear waters, the array of Mountains across the Horizon, the thick natural forests and the birds swinging across the waters from time to time
At a distance, I get glance of Matuva hills in Osubu village, Lu’ba parish in Rigbo sub county, my first impression was one of a golf course, a beautiful arraign of trees and a neat grass overlooking the Nile waters; to my surprise residents said it is a natural environment that has never been trimmed or deliberately beautified, I could only imagine.
Am told special visitors come here once in a while to take rides in the Nile waters, most of such have connections to people who know this hidden treasure, most of those who have once been here always come back, they would have discovered something unforgettable.
The site of the Gigantic Ginnery rotting away near Rhino camp sub county only serves to remind the older generation of the good old days when Rhino camp was one of the busiest towns in the region.
Questions of enhancing such huge Tourism potential largely remain unanswered let alone the few number of boats traversing the routes despite the huge benefits.
It’s needless to state in my observation how these wooden motorized boats have contributed to the local economy of the lower Madi belt but what if more investment was put to tap in this vast business opportunity? Perhaps such questions are best described as “food for thought”