Uganda refugees build camp of plenty

YOU CAN buy ice-cold beer in Ogujebe refugee camp and sit in a little video cinema while you drink it. On market stalls there are piles of second-hand clothes - known here as 'dead white men', as the concept of giving away clothes before you die is unthinkable here.

There are fresh vegetables and fruit, meat and fish. In fact you can buy almost anything obtainable in Kampala, the capital city more than 200 miles away. There are discotheques, bicycle shops and radio repair shops. One trader told me that people even come from Zaire to buy goods with gold.

In contrast to this bustling commercial metropolis, the local town, Adjumani, is a sleepy, sterile place where even at its inaptly named Climax Inn there is only the ubiquitous Coca- Cola and a few bottles of warm beer.

Ogujebe lies in a dry, rocky landscape in northern Uganda where almost nothing grows. It is a huge, sprawling camp established about five years ago. The people are Mahdis, Kukus, Baris, Acholis and other tribes from southern Sudan. They fled from the war between the Khartoum government and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) and now live in huts of mud and thatch.

Officially this is a transit camp from which the refugees should be settled farther away from the border and given land on which they can grow food to support themselves. But no one wants to move.

Refugees appear the weakest people on earth, but in fact they have all the power of vulnerability. They exaggerate, lie, cheat and refuse to be passive victims and do as they are told. They are often at loggerheads with those who try to care for them - and sometimes they win a little. At Ogujebe the refugees are winning at the moment. How can people who were poor when they left their homes and arrived here starving and carrying only what they could on their heads, now enjoy such relative opulence? The answer is the bane of refugee aid workers' lives: numbers.

The Ugandan government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees say there are 102,000 of them, but according to aid workers in the camp there are only about 80,000. Registering refugee numbers is a perennial nightmare, as some try to register twice or more. The World Food Programme provides food for 102,000. Four hundred grams of cereal per day per person, 60 grams of beans and 25 of oil - that is the UNHCR ration.

The refugees have harnessed the surplus to provide a few 'extras' and establish a flourishing market. There is, for example, a flourishing trade in old European Community rapeseed oil cans. Still displaying gold stars on a blue background' they are hammered into doors and windows or made into neat little trunks.

The market is run by a company called the Adjumani Good Will Co Ltd, which bought the concession from the local administration and collects the ground rents from the shopkeepers. The camp leaders know the UN aid system well, since many of them worked for the organisation in the camps for Ugandan refugees in southern Sudan 10 years ago.

In the corner of the food market I found some sheepish looking traders whose shed was stacked with sacks of beans, maize and oil. They shrugged when we asked them where it came from. Police on the checkpoint to the camp have noted army lorries leaving fully laden.

Food monitors estimate that about 15 to 20 per cent is being resold by the refugees to traders who use the army to remove it from the camp. Maize is bought in the camp for about 6,000 Uganda Shillings (about pounds 4) per 90-kilogram bag. In Kampala the price is about 12,000 shillings. The WFP reckons that it may be buying its own food back in Kampala and sending it back up to the camps. The surplus in the camp is funding what has become the largest market in the region.

Aid workers accept that it is better to oversupply than undersupply, and that refugees are entitled to sell any surplus. Five to 10 per cent is considered a reasonable surplus, but this has got out of hand, and Trevor Page, director of the WFP in Kampala, is threatening to cut supplies by 30 per cent to stop the profiteering.

But the numbers game is a difficult one to play. Despite the 'success' of Ogujebe, refugees in remote camps may not be getting their full ration, and one television shot of a hungry child can make a decision to cut food supplies seem callous.

The profiteering also comes at a time when more refugees are coming over from Sudan because of the upsurge in fighting. The region may soon need more food, not less.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Hydrographic Survey Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Structural Engineer

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Structural Engineer Job...

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape