By Eng. Dr. Michael Odongo
After long tortuous and painful 40 years, Lango now wants to own its destiny by stating clearly how it wants to pursue progress for its people. As a people with a common heritage, it aspires to build strong cultural identity and remain one united community within a peaceful and prosperous Uganda, partaking of its rightful share of what the country has to offer and shouldering its share of responsibility for the well-being of the country.
Lango currently posts distressing statistics on key indicators of quality of life compared to national averages. There is a young population; youth in the 15-30-year-age bracket predominate. The population is growing at well over 3.5% per annum compared to the national average of 3.2%. Unemployment especially amongst youth runs high.
Other indicators, compared against national averages include: poverty rate (60% vs. 34%), child mortality (177 vs. 134), primary school enrolment (47.1% vs. 57.4%), HIV prevalence (8.3% vs. 6.4%) and mean calorific intake (1008 vs. 1853). There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs some of it centred around the violent history of the country especially post 1971.
The British Protectorate Administration that came to Lango around 1914 did not prioritise development of the region. Rather it ranked it amongst the “least favoured” areas to supply the colonial economy with cheap cash crops, mostly cotton and labour for plantations and industries in the “favoured” southern Bantu areas.
The first post-independence government (1962-71) subsumed the development aspiration of the region within the national framework for political expediency, even though many of those leaders were Langi. While the state-instigated violence in the 1971 to 1979 period targeted and indeed decimated the educated class and leaders, the notorious LRA rebellion post-1985 caused mass murders, displacements and related mayhems at community level.
Cattle rustling in the post 1980-period dispossessed the community of the traditional economic mainstay, that is, cattle wealth. It remains the most wanton economic crime committed against the people to date.
Basing on some of the above historical scenarios, Te Kwaro Lango (the premier cultural leadership of Lango) has planned for a major conference in Lira in December to promulgate a Lango Development Agenda with the theme “Lango United for Development”.
The agenda shall be a framework and a beacon for targeted intervention and better relationships to improve the quality of life of a people smarting from decades of insurgency, displacement and economic dispossession.
The Langi live in north-central Uganda in the eight districts of Amolatar, Alebtong, Apac, Dokolo, Kole, Lira, Otuke and Oyam. With a population of over two million occupying some 12,800Km2 of land, they rank as the sixth largest nationality in Uganda. They speak a western Nilotic (Luo) language though being of Nilo-Hamitic group originally from Abyssinia, that is, Ethiopia around 1600A.D.
They entered and settled the present Lango land between 1700 and 1800 A.D. Society is traditionally organised into clans within which the main leadership rungs starts from Awi-Otem (head of family lineage) and progresses to Won Paco (head of homesteads), Jan-Jago (assistant sub chief), Jago (Sub-chief), Rwot (Clan Chief), Awitong (Supreme Clan Chief).
The overall Paramount Chief is the Won Nyaci that emerges from the college of Owitong and, like all other rungs of leadership, is non-hereditary. The current Won Deo Won Kwogo Won Kuc Won Nyaci is Adwong Yosam Odur Ebii of Atek Omwonpel clan.
The December conference will put these historical facts into perspective as it grapples with the demand of crafting a development agenda that addresses some of these historical injustices and also prepares Lango for the emerging national and global opportunities and threats.
In particular the conference will:
- Discuss the functions of traditional leadership in Lango and the role it can play in socio-economic transformation of society. To suit it to purpose, it shall require a properly constituted, clearly mandated institution (within the precincts of the exiting national laws), constitution, and paraphernalia of leadership, infrastructure, structures and organs. The current Lango Cultural Foundation forms a good starting point for the desired reforms, its weaknesses notwithstanding.
- Agree on strategies for righting historical wrongs suffered by the community over the last 40 years’ post 1971 as part of post war resettlement and reconstruction efforts.
In this rank shall be included justice and compensation for the killings of the 1970’s by agents of the state, economic crime of cattle rustling, and the LRA imposed mayhem. The Banyoro are rightly relentlessly pursing compensation for the injustices caused on their Kingdom by colonialism. Lango might want to borrow a leaf.
- Produce a people-centred development agenda that prioritises post-war resettlement and reconstruction of society within the framework of existing national and global development blueprints.
- Chart out a course for a better and beneficial non-confrontational relationship between the emergent cultural institution and the national governance at all levels as allowed by the current law on traditional institutions.
- Seek to improve relationship between Lango and other communities in Uganda for an enhanced role of the community as a positive agent for national unity and development. In this context, it will be necessary to correct certain historical perceptions in some quarters that continue to disparagingly cast the community in bad light owing to past political squabbles that involved sons and daughters of Lango.
- Prepare Lango for emerging national and global opportunities and threats of the coming decade. In this rank is counted how a healthier, educated, networked and technologically-enabled population will be managed amidst dwindling land and related natural resources. Current (sometimes bloody) land conflicts in Lango bodes ills for this challenge.
The conference will, therefore, bring together about 1,000 participants comprised of leaders of Lango including those from Diaspora, central and local government representatives, religious and cultural leaders, youth, business people, farmers, politicians, development experts and others. It shall run for three days from December 27 to 29 with a Lango Youth Conference congregating about 500 youth being held on the first day.
A 40-person strong steering committee has been formed to organise and manage the conference. Sh450m budget has been produced to cover costs. Contributions, cash or kind shall come from clans, local governments in Lango, business community, individuals and the central government.
Awitim/Chairman organising committee