Kitgum Residents Turn Airfield into Gardens Top story

2683 Views Kitgum, Uganda

In short
Residents have taken advantage of lax security at the facility to begin encroaching on the land. Now Simsim, Beans, Pototoes and Maize are growing along what should be the Kitgum Airfield runway.

Residents living around Kitgum Airfield have turned the facility into a garden after vandalizing the perimeter wall fence that protected it.
With the nearest airfield located in neighbouring Pader and Gulu districts, Kitgum Airfield remains critical in case of an emergency.
However, Kitgum Town Council has failed to maintain the ground in readiness for emergencies. Residents have taken advantage of lax security at the facility to begin encroaching on the land. Now Simsim, Beans, Pototoes and Maize are growing along what should be the Kitgum Airfield runway.
No longer maintained, the runway now resembles a foot path. Motorcyclists (Boda bodas) prefer to use the same runway as a distribution link to neighbouring Gangdyang and Bar Dege. It is a usual sight to see people learning to drive cars using the airfield as practice ground.
The last time the field hosted a plane was in 2012 when a Military helicopter descended to the ground with the remains of deceased veteran Democratic Party politician, Okeny Tiberio Atwoma. Since then, the field has become a food basket for growing vegetables that Kitgum Town depends on.
Ronald Okot, the chairperson of Gangdyang Village, located adjacent to the airfield says once an air craft was forced to crash land because there were animals grazing along the runway. He says the animals were impounded and auctioned after no one came forward to claim them.
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The visitors' shade which served donors and relief workers at the height of the Lord's Resistance Army conflict has also been vandalized.
Okot says the airfield has also become a hideout for criminals at night.
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A group of women weeding their simsim gardens at the airfield refused to speak on tape. They said they were authorized by council to plough the airfield.
Betty Achen, one of the women told Uganda Radio Network that their activities are temporary at the airfield.
Richard Ojara Okwera, the Kitgum Town Council chairperson, says Council authorized the gardening after failing to raise adequate funds to maintain the field. He says council however instructed the farmers to grow mostly creepers that do not affect visibility of the runway. 
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Okwera says the town council had asked Civil Aviation Authority to build another airfield away from the town because it is a security risk.
Okwera says the council proposed CAA relocates the airfield to Orom Sub County, more than 80 kilometers east of Kitgum town.
However, the effort came to nothing after Akwang residents refused to offer up land at the proposed venue. 
Until enough land is found for the relocation of the facility, the airfield remains a piece of land measuring fewer than 2 meters wide and 5 kilometers long runway on which sides goats and crops feed every day.


About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.