PAKWACH. The Obongi town is one of the thriving legacies of Emin Pasha and it started as a refuelling station for steamer ships operating between fort Dufile in Moyo and Fort Wadelai in Pakwach district.

Hajj Sebi Indiga, 78, one of the residents says by the time the station was established in 1883, Obongi was a bushy habitat for wildlife such as elephants and buffaloes.

The wild beasts scared the original inhabitants to leave the area. But the steam engines were powered by energy generated from burning wood fuel.

This brought about the need for human labour to provide firewood. In order to obtain sufficient labour, Mr Pasha’s troops made incursions into neighbouring settlements especially Itula where the Reli settled and Waka where the Gimara people lived.

The two communities were forcefully driven to Obongi to chop logs and transport them to the pier under strict slavery conditions.

Mr Mohammed Igwe, 75, says after Pasha’s departure, Obongi remained idle until the British colonial administration introduced cotton production in the region in 1919.

residential buildingsDecent residential buildings are now changing the face of Obongi . PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

The Obongi steamer station was then revived as a centre for cotton collection. All the cotton from Moyo, Yumbe, Koboko and some parts of Terego were taken to Obongi where a large store was erected while others were taken to Rhino Camp.

The British deployed Lugard I and Lugard II steamer ships to transport the cotton to Masindi Port.

In 1932, it became the headquarters of Obongi County. This was when the colonial government reorganised the administration in that part of West Nile which until then had been run through clan chiefs.

Consequently the Reli, Aliba and Gimara were brought under one administrative unit and Chief Bokitaka Kayi appointed as the first County chief of Obongi.

Origin of the name

The name Obongi comes from an Aliba word “Opongi” which refers to a special sauce reserved for the very important persons in the traditional sense.

Mr Igwe says that place was named by the Aliba because the first people to live there were the Perego whose great grandmother was from Alipi clan of Aliba who lived across the river Nile on the Adjumani side.

The Aliba woman was sent away from home as a social outcast because she had leprosy. She met and married a Gimara boy who himself was chased away from home by the stepmother.

When they consummated their marriage and produced children, the woman informed her family of the new developments and her husband who was an intelligent hunter started supplying them with bush meat.

“The family concluded that the girl who had been rejected from home has become a sauce for notables in the clan,” Mr Igwe says.

He says the foreigners who later came to the area could not pronounce Opongi well hence the transition to Obongi.

Social amenities

As cotton production dwindled, Obongi gained prominence for fishing, attracting bikers and motorcyclists to come from as far as Koboko, Maracha and Arua to go and buy fish from the landing site.

Lucrative fish businessWomen trading fish in Obongi town. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

The lucrative fish business also attracted more people such as the Alur, Kakwa, Aringa and the Lugbara to settle in Obongi accounting for the cosmopolitan composition of the town today.

The congregation of people also brought about the need for social amenities such as education, health and leisure facilities.

Today, Obongi town has got four primary schools, namely Obongi town primary school, the Obongi primary school, Aliba primary school and Imam Bukari primary school.

There is no secondary school but three nursery schools provide early childhood education for children.

The Obongi health centre IV takes care of health needs while new shopping centres and decent residential houses have sprung up as Obongi County gears up for a district status.

The White house is the latest lodging facility in Obongi town joining a plethora of others that also offer a recreational menu such as soccer screening and pubs.

The town has a piped water system providing safe water and this was even boosted last year by the Uganda Red Cross Society when it secured foreign funding to set up a water treatment facility that draws water directly from river Nile.

The plant targeted South Sudan refugees in Bidibidi settlement in Yumbe and Palorinya settlement in Obongi County. As a corporate social responsibility, water taping points were also created for the town residents.

Accessing Obongi

Obongi town is located 61.2km south of Moyo town and it takes about one hour, fifteen minutes to drive there.

From Arua airfield there are two routs to choose from. The 105km Arua-Terego-Obongi road takes you two-and-a-half hours drive to arrive at Obongi and the Arua-Koboko-Yumbe-Obongi road is three hours drive.

The Obongi ferry connecting Obongi to Adjumani district is perhaps the single busiest asset the town has got.

Obongi ferry crossingObongi ferry is one of the busiest in the region. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

The ferry operates between eight to twelve trips daily and there is no room for rest. Most humanitarian agencies transporting heavy relief items and traders going to Juba capital city of South Sudan via the Adjumani-Elegu-Nimule road prefer the Obongi route, avoiding the hilly terrain of Moyo-Laropi road.