TACOMA, Washington — There is a village in rural Uganda that is attempting to build for itself a radically different type of community. After a decade-long war, Okere Mom-Kok found itself in shambles among the other northern villages impacted by the conflict. Despite their best efforts to rebuild, the destroyed village amounted to nothing more than just that. However, in January 2019, a young villager returned from his time away to begin a project that would transform Okere Mom-Kok into Okere City.
Ojok Okello left Okere Mom-Kok after “his father was killed in the bush wars of 1980.” Nearly 40 years later and with a prestigious degree from the London School of Economics, Okello returned to his home with a new and radical vision for the future. He wanted to honor his father — who was also a civil servant — and reinvigorate his home village to be totally self-sufficient.
Previously, Okello worked at several NGOs and international charities and became disheartened by their constant failure. The organizations trying to provide aid sometimes distanced themselves from the communities. They do not always involve the communities when deciding what their future might look like. “I don’t want this project to be at the mercy of some white people,” Okello told The Guardian. With 200 million Ugandan shillings ($54,000) from his own pocket, he began working.
Okere City lies on 500 acres of land. The city features a school, a bank, a hospital and a versatile community hall that doubles as a movie theater, a church and even a nightclub. Every villager pays their dues and gets what they pay for. The children at the school pay half their fees in cash and the other half in natural resources like maize or beans. Patients at the clinic have the option to pay their bills in installments. Additionally, women play some of the most important roles in the village economy.
Solar energy generates free power for all to use. This makes it one of the only villages in the region with this type of power. “Modern borehole methods” provide clean water to the town, reducing the prevalence of cholera outbreaks. But aside from all of these exciting and revolutionary developments, there is one unique resource and product that sets Okere City apart: shea butter.
Inspiration from Marvel’s “Black Panther”
In early 2020, Okello sat beneath one of Okere City’s many shea trees and thought about Marvel’s blockbuster film “Black Panther.” He details this experience in The Guardian stating, “I looked at [the shea tree]and realized that we have this important natural resource, and we were not harnessing it… and I thought about Wakanda and Black Panther, they had vibranium, this shea tree could be our vibranium.” The shea tree is an endangered species, but Okere City is working to reverse that trend and create a direct stream of revenue by planting more trees and selling Okere Shea Butter at nearby markets.
Wakanda’s Real-Life Impact
This self-sustainable village is the closest thing the world has to a real-life Wakanda. There is a future for Africa that lies in the inspirational story of Okello and his village. The lesson: there is a great power that lies in communities whether they are big or small. NGOs must involve them in the decision-making process. Money only works when the community agrees on how to use it. Okello and his city are an inspiration to all. Their story reminds us that compassion and sustainability lend themselves to worthy returns.
– Matthew Hayden