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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones