The leopard is a loner.
It watches the world from high places and spots the future creeping in.
Arua gets it. It’s different, uniquely different, as if isolated from the rest of Uganda. Sprawling out North West and perched 1,310ft above sea level, this is lofty lay. But it’s not lonely. Though the leopard thrives solo, it lives for the action.
Lying at the junction of a vital trade route between Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Arua is all vibrant cosmopolitan bustle, a hub of cross-border trade, labour mobility and information flow.
A City worthy of the name
This dynamic convergence of cultures and commerce elevated Arua Municipality to city status in April 2020, a fitting recognition of the largest city in Northern Uganda and headquarters of the West Nile Sub region, which commands 12 districts.
City status is a nod to Arua’s delights – its beguiling sights and sounds. And is confirmation Arua has finally shaken off its spotted past and is rising to embrace a future of possibilities.
This now is must-see spread. The neatly paved roads, rising structures, the lively businesses and business people and, well, all the people.
A visit to Arua City is a true traveller’s delight, and a traveller’s dream to commence the adventure on a Bar Aviation flight, available from its Kajjansi Airfield on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Bar Aviation flies to 12 destinations in Uganda, including Kihihi, Kisoro, Kasese, Mweya, Murchison Falls, Bugungu and Chobe, Pakuba, Semuliki National Park, Mbarara Adjumani and Koboko.
Arua’s attractions stand out. The city is a case study in fruitful co-existence. On top of the ethnically-diverse foundation characteristic of West Nile sub region districts, Arua is defined by its encounters with traders, visitors and settlers from Congo and South Sudan.
For nearby Congolese, Arua City is business dreamland, often preferable to their capital Kinshasa. As for the South Sudanese, refuge is often the greater motivation for crossing into Arua. This movement and settlement has, however, resulted in an urban refugee challenge that has put pressure on the city’s resources even while continuously redefining Arua’s demographics.
To survive, the leopard must adapt to constant change in its surroundings, making compromises and accommodations.
A Monument to the Leopard
“West Nile is a very unique region,” says Sunda Etrima, who is at the heart of two of Arua City’s most significant on-going construction projects. “We have around eight tribes, but we are united.”
The projects are a football stadium – for local favourite club Arua Hill FC – and the Arua City Monument, which is intended to be the second tallest in Africa. The Monument will dedicate the ground floor to a statue of the sub region’s cultural symbol.
“The leopard represents the people of West Nile,” says Etrima. “Even if you went to parliament, West Nile is represented by a leopard”.
The Monument, which is expected to be completed next year, is symbolic of Arua’s remarkable evolution and aggressive reach for progress. At 40 meters, the Monument will have a view tower “to see Nebbi, to see Pakwach, to see Congo and to see South Sudan,” explains Etrima.
You see that ambition equally captured in the mega Arua Hill FC Stadium construction project. Arua loves its football and the rivalry between Arua Hill and Onduparaka FC is among the most intense in Ugandan football. Arua Hill, though, have gone several steps up on their city rivals by the move to construct a 20,000 capacity stadium that will also include a Business Park aimed at boosting local business. Visitors to Arua will certainly frequent the Stadium once construction is completed over the next few years, many of whom will come for the Arua Hill – Onduparaka derby.
Tingle your taste buds
If you love your food, Arua will not disappoint. A walk downtown quickly arrests the palate with blended aromas of the land’s best delicacies. Meat, especially of goat extraction, is a particular favorite with the locals, while kalo (millet bread) and osubi (greens prepared with groundnut sauce and rock salt) are peculiar to any meal with aspirations of mass approval. Restaurants are easy to find in Arua City so your options are guaranteed.
Arua Central Market
If your menu includes food plus shopping, then Arua Central Market is the place to be. Along with Arua Mall, popular with high-end clientele, Arua Central Market offers unique shopping adventure. Opened in 2021, the sh34.9b Arua Central Market has space for 4600 vendors. Constructed under the second phase of the Uganda government’s Markets and Agricultural Trade Improvement Program, Arua Central market has a bulk storage facility, day care centre, clinics and pharmacies, restaurants, water storage resource, waste collection and disposal, CCTV cameras and fire-fighting installations, parking and value addition facility, among others. Simply put, it is the place to be, even if it’s just to listen to the groovy congolese jams that blare through the market’s speakers.
A city on the move
The new market represents a massive upgrade on its old predecessor, a fact that extends to the revenue collection, which has gone up as much as three times. That is growth, which is the best description of the overall mood and movement of Arua, which has campuses of recognized educational institutions such as Uganda Christian University, Makerere University Business School and Islamic University in Uganda. First declared a municipality by Idi Amin in 1971, Arua City is among Uganda’s five largest cities, with a population of nearly 400,000 people. The city’s vision is to be “a vibrant, inclusive and adaptable eco city and the hub of trade industry by 2040”.
Beautiful Barifa Forest sighting
Central to Arua’s eco balance is the Barifa Forest, which can be spotted from the breathtaking view on top of Arua Hill. One of the region’s most important historical sites, Arua Hill overlooks Arua town and Barifa Forest, characterized by compact grass formations, a large number of tree species typical of the area as well as the Dorcus Inzikuru Stadium.
Inzikuru, who is Uganda’s first female World Athletics and Commonwealth champion, remains one of Arua’s most famous exports, but as a visit to Arua will show you, there are plenty of home attractions worth the importation of the adventure seeker.