You pass a rusty sign that reads ‘Welcome to Apac Town Council’, it is partly covered by the branches of a nearby bush. The painted letters have almost disappeared, like the murram below your feet: some hundred meters of tarmac take you through the main street to a central round-about in the middle of the town. An empty frame of a giant billboard has been erected in the centre of the round-about, it contrasts with the semi-rural surroundings of trees, short buildings and little sign posts. Four roads meet at this intersection, each lined with tarmac for a while, only to become murram at the boundaries of the town.
Along the tarmac in each direction you find grocery shops, general stores and bookshops, and little restaurants with exotic names like ‘Restaurant Eclipse’ or ‘Whispers’. The road to the north leads to Lira in the neighbouring district, a busy town with much economic activity and the fastest growing population of Uganda. The eastern road takes you to the hospital and further afield into the villages. The road to the west leads you through many swamps where boys wash their bicycles in the water; as it is the rainy season the swamps are currently flooding the road in many parts. This route leads eventually to a main road from where you can cross the thundering Nile by bridge over Karuma Falls. The route to the south takes you to the Nile some 60km away; passing many villages along the way you eventually find a port where a small ferry takes up to four vehicles and many passengers across the river to Masindi Port on the other side.
Looking at a map of Uganda, you could think that the central round-about of Apac connects all four corners of Uganda: the north with the south, the east with the west. Yet Apac is one of Uganda’s little-known districts. Despite its potentially strategic location within this African republic, Apac resembles an over-grown village in a remote corner of the country. People, money and ideas rarely pass by Apac; traders and professionals from Lira and beyond drive around, rather than through, Apac district in spite of the lengthier route. They prefer the bridge at Karuma to the ferry, the tired tarmac of the main roads to the potholed and often wet murram.
Yet it is only in the eyes of the superficial observer that life stands still in Apac. Underneath the surface you will find the colourful traditions and customs of the Langi people, the local politics of the district administration, the power brokers and the civil society organisations, the present-day manifestations of a complex political history, the aftermath of the bloody insurgency into northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as the resilience and determination of a marginalised and profoundly poor population. Welcome to ‘Apac in the World’.