The Karamonjong Tribe of Uganda
The Karamojong tribe, one of few African tribes that have continued to live in an 18th century lifestyle, has continued with barbaric acts of raiding their neighbours (tribes) and gone on practicing this at the expense of their own clan members.
Karamojong from Karamoja located in the North Eastern part of Uganda (small East African country) are a normadic tribe whose livelihood depends on keeping cattle. Located in a 27,200 square kilometer area of semi-arid savannah, bush and mountains, the region has dominant groups including the Dodoth in the north, the Jie in the central region, and, in the south, a cluster of closely related ethnic groups known as Bokora, Matheniko, and Pian all of whom are referred to generally as the Karimojong in the Karamoja Region
As described, the area has an ecological feature as a semi-arid living, varying rain pattern, mostly during June and September. This leaves the area greatly exposed to drought and therefore failing crop production, providing them with minimal options regarding livestock maintenance.
With this, the tribe has looked at livestock as economical and symbolic. With unpredictable rains and persistent drought, the Karamojong often abandon their homes to temporary encampments in search for pasture and water for their animals, occasionally crossing to neigbouring tribes.
This swift search for water and pasture has always resulted in tribal fights and a culture of raiding livestock. The Karamojong have a natural belief that all livestock around belongs to them. This is enforced by the fact that cattle are used for bride price and the raids a symbol of strength and manhood in the tradition of the community.
Through the years 1970 1980, while engaging in civil strife, the Karamojong acquired guns from disgruntled soldiers. These arms helped the Karamojong to increase their strength and gain and advantage over their neighbours whom they ruthlessly attack, always killing, raiding and rustling cattle, and destroying crops and property.
During colonial and post-colonial times, several unsuccessful efforts were made by different government regimes to persuade the Karamojong to cease their atrocities against their neighbours, but there has since been no fruitful resolution.
This practice went on until 1986 when the government of President Yoweri Museveni came to power. Museveni and Human Rights groups saw the urgent need to quell the escalating problem in order to save the Ateso and Bagisu tribes from the pathetic life to which they have been subjected by the Karamojong. Until the Museveni presidential elections took place, the Karimojong wreaked so much havoc in the neighboring districts that cattle rustling became a major electoral issue. The Karimojong warriors mobilised and massively raided Teso and Sebei because there was 'no government'.
The subsequent intervention by the government saw to it that disarmament programs were to be initiated in order to cease and remove all illegal gun usage by the Karimojong. This is one of the several attempts by government and the Civil Society to bring the situation in the region to a state of normalcy (civility and legality). The subsequent incumbent President Museveni pledged in his election manifesto to end cattle rustling, causing a number of interim measures to be adopted.
Between 1997 and 2000, disarmament was high on the government's priority list. In December 2000, parliament passed the Disarmament Act. The objectives of the government's policy on disarmament were:
Kenya and Sudan
To stop inter-clan terrorism within Karamoja and infiltration of arms
To deploy UPDF, LDUs and vigilantes in strategic areas within Karamoja and along the boarders to ensure protection of life and property
To enlist support for peaceful disarmament of people at grassroots level through rigorous sensitisation programmes
To co-operate with Kenya and Sudan in concurrent disarmament of the Turkana and Didinga
To stop illegal trafficking of guns from Sudan/Kenya into Uganda
To resettle and rehabilitate those who surrender guns and ensure social/economic transformation of Karamoja
To improve radio communication for effective dissemination of information and education
To beef up police and the judiciary to ensure peace and administration of justice
The disarmament programme was carried out in two phases. The first phase involved voluntary disarmament and started on 2nd December 2001 and ended on 2nd January 2002. Forceful disarmament, the second phase, commenced on 15th February 2002.
THE ROAD TO DISARMAMENT
Government offered a number of incentives for the Karimojong to voluntarily disarm, including the provision of iron sheets and ox-ploughs to whomever surrendered their weapons.
At the beginning there was optimism regarding the transformation of the livelihood of the Karimojong, from dependency on the cow to other viable sources of income after disarmament. Indeed, in the period between January 2002 and February 2003, it was evident that the warriors had stopped openly carrying guns along roads and in towns, a sign of the success of the disarmament exercise.
Similarly, during the same period, large-scale cattle rustling was reduced to isolated incidents of cattle theft by habitual criminals.
Voluntary disarmament had a number of shortcomings nevertheless:
Because of corruption, the iron sheets distributed ended up in with people who never disarmed, for example in Panyangara and Nakapelimoru sub-counties in Kotido district. Many were relatives, friends and campaign managers of local politicians.
The distribution of ox-ploughs was impractical for some ethnic groups like the Pokot, to whom likened it to punishment of their precious animals.
The Tepeth on the mountain sold their ploughs because the steep terrain would not allow its use
Disarmament was handled on an individual basis, which escalated inter-ethnic conflicts instead of collective incentives, which would have promoted community cohesiveness and reduced paranoia over public scrutiny.
The community had to travel long distances to the arms collection centres that were located at district headquarters. Compared to the initial costs of buying arms, the incentive for people to disarm was not worth traveling.
ENFORCING THE DISARMAMENT
The UPDF (Ugandan Army) launched military operations to recover illegal arms after the expiration of an extended deadline for voluntary disarmament on 15th February 2002. They recovered, by force, only 1,949 guns from Karamoja and 763 from Kapchorwa. 1,378 guns and 40 homemade guns were handed voluntarily during the second phase.
Due to lack of co-operation, trust, commitment, common cause, and sincerity among senior local leadership on Karamoja, it became extremely difficult for the UPDF to mobilise forceful disarmament. This led to violent clashes between the armed Karimojong warriors and the UPDF.
In March 2002, hardly a month after forceful disarmament had been launched in Karamoja, government abruptly withdrew the UPDF to contain increased LRA rebel incursions in Northern Uganda. This heightened internal raiding by sections of the Karimojong that had not disarmed.
It all started when the Upe, who had fled to Kenya during the disarmament, returned and raided Pian and Bokora herds. The Bokora started raiding the Matheniko and Jie herds, and the Jie retaliated on the Matheniko. The Dodoth raided the Jie and Matheniko. The Turkana also intensified their incursions into Matheniko areas as far as Lorukumo. By the end of 2002, there was total mayhem in the region. Raiding spread to parts of Teso and Acholi.
As a result of these internal and external raids, different Karimojong groups started re-arming in order to protect themselves, an act that severely undermined the initial successes yielded by the disarmament exercise. State Minister for Defence, Ruth Nankabirwa was quoted to have said at the end of November 2003 that the government had conceded failure of the disarmament programme and that efforts had began to re-design the programme.
(Source: Building Local Capacity for Peace and Development in Karamoja, Uganda:
A report study by SNV, 2004)
Insecurity - Inspite of government's efforts to curb insecurity in the Karamoja region, it still persists. This has a number of causes:
Redundant unemployed youths (Karacuna). There are no economic activities that can pre-occupy the strong, energetic, tough and ready young Karacuna.
Inability of the state security organizations to contain insecurity.
An abrupt halt on the disarmament program sparks sporadic raids against the disarmed, especially the Kenyan, Pokot, and Turkana who were not disarmed by their government and thereafter intensified raiding in most parts of the district
The proliferation of Arms has continued to re-enforce the hitherto volatile situation
Colonial background: The colonialists decided to shift and relocate the Karamojong of Pian origin from their original land of Karita and Lokaalees currently occupied by the Pokot to the present dry lands of Lorengedwat Nabilatuk and Lolachat. With that, the Karamojong Pian continue to view the Pokot as their enemies who grubbed away their fertile land.
Historical ethnic background: Apart from the above colonial factors, the current precarious insecurity is attributed to the ethnic and cultural difference among the Pian and the Pokot. The common local belief is that the two are traditional enemies to the extent that a raid from either group would be viewed as normal and expected. Tit for tat raids is the order of the day.
Struggle for water and pasture areas.
Uncertainties posed by cattle raids.
Children cannot go to school
Infrastructure building has been affected by road thuggery
Mobile population cannot access social services from government and national programs
Spread of livestock diseases through cattle raids
Loss of tough between the communities with their leadership and government
Inaccessibility to the markets due to road ambushes
(Source: Nakapirirpirit District Local Government Three Year Development Plan 2003/2004 - 2004/2005)