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How Gen Saleh turned Gulu City into pilgrimage capital

Gen Salim Saleh (centre, back row), meets Luweero Triangle State minister Alice Kaboyo (3rd right, front row), and other officials at his residence in Gulu army barracks on August 18.

On April 9, Ms Ziria Tibalwa Waako, the chief executive officer of Uganda’s Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), issued a “heartfelt apology” to the business community in Acholi Sub-region over persistent power blackout.

Ms Waako was speaking at Watoto Church in Gulu City at a forum organised by Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) with support from Uganda Development Bank (UDB).

The meeting convened by Northern Uganda Business Forum was meant to educate entrepreneurs in the sub-region on financing and business opportunities available from government.

But the meeting soon turned hot when Gen Salim Saleh joined the entrepreneurs to demand that the power agencies explain the frequent power shutdown in the region.

The OWC senior supervisors, led by Gen Saleh, on the prompting of the business community, reportedly summoned the four executive directors of Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL), Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL), and Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) .

ERA’s Waako, and Umeme chief executive officer were repeatedly questioned over endless blackouts in the sub-region.

Ms Waako said she was sorry for the anxiety caused by the persistent blackouts and regretted their impact on the economic and investment priorities in the region.

“We sincerely apologise that the power supply in this area has not been reliable, as a mother of the sector, it is disheartening. We are evaluating the impact and that is why you see all of us here,” Ms Waako said.

She said plans to upgrade the 32kW powerline supplying the region via Tororo-Opuyo-Lira-Gulu to a 132kW are complete, and that it would help to solve the problem of inadequate power to fuel industrialisation in the north.

“We shall have three lines supplying the region and all these three main lines will all back up the north, two of them are connected to Karuma Dam (Karuma-Olwiyo line and Karuma-Lira line), while the other line evacuates power from Achwa to Gulu,” she assured.

In his address, Gen Saleh said the economic progress of the sub-region had been hampered by a lack of sustainable electricity supply.

“The question of reliable electricity is one big challenge that businesses in this area are facing, and I wonder why the sector players are taking forever to fix this, considering the many opportunities that this region boasts of,” Gen Saleh said.

Whereas critics had advanced several theories that electricity was at times turned off to favour specific businesses in the city and disadvantage the rest, it appears ERA boss’ apology yielded fruits.

Thanks to Gen Saleh’s intervention, the Acholi Sub-region, specifically Gulu City, has since April this year, taken a rest from load-shedding.

With stable electricity now, Gen Saleh’s presence in Gulu City since mid-2020 has transformed investment opportunities in the region.

Every time the retired army general appears at public events, he preaches the gospel of investment and prosperity, including to guests who secure appointments to meet him in Gulu, and the entourages have been endless.

The General’s residence within 4th Division UPDF Barracks in Gulu City is a beehive of activity, teeming with guests waiting for audience. The General’s presence has since turned Gulu City into a pilgrims’ town for the past one year, drawing varied classes of visitors ranging from government officials to diplomats, local and foreign investors.

Whereas his residence and the army barracks is somewhat limited to dignitaries, available options such as Bomah Hotel, where he has created a boardroom, Watoto Church, and Acholi Inn, all come in handy to handle his varied classes of guests.

Besides those who visit to access Gen Saleh and seek financial support, key investment, governance and state decisions appear to be incubated and made from Gulu at the moment.

For example, on May 13, American singer Akon, alias Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam, and wife Rozina Negusei, flew aboard a UPDF chopper to Gulu City to have a high-level engagement with Gen Saleh over his proposed investments in Uganda.

OWC later tweeted on the same day that the meeting chaired by Gen Saleh discussed several investment potentials in Uganda.

“We discussed investments in other key growth sectors like tourism, minerals and extractives, and infrastructure, among others. We explored different ways of working together to unlock these potentials for sustainable wealth and job creation in Uganda,” the tweet read.

While addressing music artistes and promoters in Gulu City on August 3, Gen Saleh said he was determined to change the course of the arts industry in Uganda.

“Exactly 25 years ago here in Gulu, I wrote a paper that changed the direction of the army/military on the August26, 1996. It’s not a coincidence that we are here to change the course of the arts industry in Uganda,” he said in his address.

Afterwards, Gen Saleh met a group of young innovators from the Bakyotasubira Herbal Research Centre at Gulu University’s Faculty of Medicine, as they submitted samples of various herbal medicines.

Musicians flock Gulu

For more than two months now, a scramble among musicians and other players in the entertainment industry to reap big from an expected Covid-19 cash bailout spearheaded by Gen Salim Saleh, has sparked off fights.

Although OWC dismissed the claims, saying they had no plans to dish out billions of shillings to any artists handpicked for special Covid-19 cash relief, the recent turn of events has forced the OWC officials to concede they are currently engaging the artists.

Photos that have trended online for the past three weeks show hundreds of music artistes, promoters, and comedians, among others, from all over the country, camped in Gulu and holding several meetings among themselves in wait for the reported bailout cash.

Between July 23 and 31, a total of 46 artistes camped in Gulu for a retreat, dubbed, ‘Strengthening the Cultural and Creative Industry in Uganda’.

On August 5, during the ‘graduation ceremony’ of the artistes at Acholi Inn in Gulu City, Maj Gen Leopold Kyanda, the UPDF Joint Chief of Staff, Government Chief Whip Thomas Tayebwa, and Gender, Labour and Social Development minister Peace Mutuzo showed up at the closed-door ceremony.

A week later, Gen Saleh would be seen awarding Shs15 million to a local musician from Karamoja named Ivy Maxwell for creating a song advising the public to keep safe as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.

The song, he said, was part of a series of activities that saw several local musicians participate in a contest creating songs that call onto the public to observe strict adherence to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) put in place by the government to stop the spread of Covid-19.

It was not clear why the meeting had a blend of big guns from the military, government, ruling NRM party and Parliament.

On the same day, August 5, the Vice President, Ms Jessica Alupo, joined by Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, a senior presidential adviser on Manifesto Implementation, arrived in Gulu City for a consultative meeting with Gen Saleh.

During the meeting, which started with the tour of the army barracks, Ms Alupo pledged her full support to complement efforts by OWC, but underscored the successes of the programme in the past years and commended the presidential initiative aimed at transforming households.

Gen Saleh then gave Ms Alupo a book, Who and Where is the Farmer?

The book details pieces of research that were facilitated and coordinated by OWC.

Ms Sylvia Owori, the OWC director for operations, later confirmed that the book was handed to Ms Alupo with a view to aiding policymakers to make the informed decisions that affect smallholder farmers, who are at the bottom of the power relations.

She noted that having done a lot of work in the past seven years, the NRM government should work with the people to consolidate these achievements and secure a better position for farmers in the value chain through different interventions.

Other key government officials to make an official visit to Gen Saleh are Ms Alice Kaboyo, the minister of State for Luweero Triangle, on August 15, and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja on August 18.

While Ms Kaboyo met Gen Saleh to discuss the Parish Model Programme in relation to Luweero Triangle, as well as compensation of the Luweero War veterans, Ms Nabbanja met Gen Saleh to discuss the agricultural sector and the music industry.

“On OWC front to reorganise the creative-arts industry, she relayed her enthusiasm to make the industry get back on its feet from the setbacks that the pandemic has caused on it, imploring leaders in the industry have better organisation and coordination,” Ms Owori tweeted.

Ms Nabbanja also reportedly addressed the copyright infringement issues but apologised for the continued failure by the media to pay for the music, pledging to address the issue, which she said hampers many musicians from developing the industry and releasing music.

In a later tweet on August 19, Ms Owori tweeted: “OWC hosted Ms Alice Kaboyo, minister of State for Luweero Triangle in Gulu yesterday. Discussions were around linkages between Ministry of Luweero Triangle interventions and the Parish Development Model, among other issues such as mindset-change and compensation of the Luweero veterans.”

Once he hosted Ms Nabbanja, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) State Minister Kyofatogabye Kabuye later arrived in Gulu City on August 20 to meet Gen Saleh.

At the meeting, the pair reportedly discussed several development issues surrounding Kampala Metropolitan Area.

A statement later posted by OWC on social media said because cities do not only possess massive resources, talent and creativity but serve as hubs for innovation, knowledge sharing and experimentation, meeting Mr Kabuye was quite a deal to Gen Saleh.

“This [meeting] facilitates the process of generating new ideas, embedding them locally and scaling up what works best. We are keen to work with the minister and his team to unlock the potential in the metro area for sustainable development,” it read.

Inclusive approach

On the one hand, Gen Saleh’s approach appears to be inclusive to all categories, including religious and cultural institutions.

To Gen Saleh, traditional leaders are invaluable drivers and enablers in helping communities to thrive and be sustainable in line with the country’s aspirations in the National Development Plan (NDP) III.

On August 22, while at Gulu army barracks, Gen Saleh met Prince David Wasajja of Buganda Kingdom to discuss governance and development.

“It was a great discussion with many compelling views on how to harness the power of the farmer in the agriculture value chain,” OWC confirmed in a statement.

Pictures of Prince Wasajja later appeared on social media together with Gen Saleh and other officials after the meeting.

“We met [him] to discuss matters of national importance, among which was the role of traditional kingdoms in realising the national development aspirations through interventions such as the Parish Development Model,” OWC said.

“He [Prince Wasajja] welcomed our joint efforts and he will continue to be involved in capacity building programmes to cause transformation in community perceptions, attitudes and practices, civic competence and effective leadership, which are key to tackling modern development challenges,” Ms Owori would later retweet.

Guests so far hosted in Gulu City

● American pop star Akon.

● Vice President Jessica Alupo

● Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

● State minister for Luweero Triangle Alice Kaboyo.

● KCCA State Minister. Kyofatogabye Kabuye.

● Senior presidential advisor on Manifesto Implementation Prof Ephraim Kamuntu.

● Prince David Wasajja of Buganda Kingdom.

● UPDF Joint Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Leopold Kyanda.

● Government Chief Whip Thomas Tayebwa.

● Gender, Labour and Social Development minister Peace Mutuzo.

● CEOs of Umeme, UEGCL, UEDCL, UETCL.

● Musicians and other artistes.