By James Karuhanga
Senior Researcher-East Africa

Illegally armed and violent Karimojong Ngiwakujo (warriors) are blamed for the insecurity in Uganda’s north eastern region. This explains the government’s insistence on forceful disarmament which started in May 2006 after voluntary disarmament failed. For example, from January 2007 to May 2007, 59 guns were reportedly voluntarily handed in while 1,203 guns were forcefully recovered.

However, the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies (GLCSS) observes that the region’s security risk factor can be eliminated by wholly addressing the issue of underdevelopment in the region.

The Karimojong need to be provided with alternative livelihood sources which their region lacks. Disarmament can effectively go hand in hand with development initiatives for durable security to prevail. GLCSS believes that if the warriors are shown alternative means of livelihood, the gun will easily be abandoned allowing security to prevail in the region.

‘’The problem of Karamoja needs to be addressed holistically with all programs disarmament and development] moving together,’’ stresses Michael Lote Lokauwa, a presidential assistant for Karamoja. He believes that Karamoja, unlike most other regions in the country, ‘‘Needs to start from zero,’’ since nothing completely exists on the ground previously in terms of development.

GLCSS observes that the region lacks most basic economic infrastructure and the calamity of prolonged drought necessitates commitment to fast action to check effects of climate change and the gun conflict. Insecurity has disrupted people’s lives and caused much economic losses. Human loss mostly due to hunger and deprivation and during violent inter-clan or county cattle raids or clashes with the Army. There have also been clashes with pastoralist tribes across borders in Kenya and South Sudan.

Food production is also affected and this is shown by large abandoned swathes of fertile lands in the Karamoja, especially in the southerly ‘green belt’. People have fled in fear of attacks and this has affected production often leading to hunger and dependence on relief aid.
Lokauwa insisted that, ‘’people are themselves fed up with guns,’’ and wishes government could come up with other programs, ‘’when the guns are hidden now.’’

The Karimojong even though succumbing to forceful disarmament are not really giving in all their guns but some are believed to be hidden until the army leaves as some anticipate. Even though most have seen the ill-effects of the gun, a constant fear that the army might abandon them after disarming still lingers. In the past, when the north’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion escalated, soldiers were relocated to the north to fight the rebel incursion leaving the Karimojong to rearm.

‘’As long as we only leave UPDF alone without other stake holders, it will never succeed,’’ Lokawua emphasized. Clearly, disarmament alone is not a solution to Karamoja’s major problem; extreme poverty or scarcity of resources and a harsh climate. And Lokauwa is not the only one calling for a pragmatic approach to tackling Karamoja’s insecurity.


‘’The way forward is development,’’ argued Col. Paul Lokech, the Army’s 3rd Division Director of Operations and Training. Lokech like most elites in the region pointed out that there is no single solution for the problem, and emphasized the importance of, ‘’physical disarmament and mental disarmament.’’ He stressed that as forceful disarmament continues, it is equally important to consider mobilization, education and economic empowerment of the population.


The army has started another positive but difficult project, ‘forceful education’ of all Karimojong school-age children. If well implemented, it will in the long run impact on security and the overall development of the region by reducing illiteracy. The rural illiterate community especially the youth (Karachuna) is adamant to change their violent ways. Education will greatly change lifestyle and change the thinking that they have a ‘divine right to cattle’, a long-held belief that all cows belong to them which is associated with rampant cattle theft.


Sophie Nangiro, a Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) officer in Moroto is involved with projects like Alternative Basic Education for Karamoja (ABEK) and Karamoja Women Advocacy for Peace and Development (KWAPD). Like most other educated Karimojong, she believes that education is important.


‘’Not necessarily many schools but full fledged boarding schools for compulsory primary education at every sub-county,’’ she said ‘’let there be a bye-law that all sub-county chiefs who don’t send children to school be suitably punished.’’


Compared to a country-wide estimate of 80 percent, Karamoja’s primary school education attendance is about 30 percent. A factor that partly explains the lawlessness as most Karimojong children grow up to embrace the only way of life in the region: an unsustainable nomadic culture and the related violence.


On 20 June 2007, the army launched a ‘communal grazing program’ to protect cattle from rustlers and check lawlessness. This should go with the provision of other basic necessities.


Construction of valley dams, planting trees, dairy development and irrigation systems and other possible development projects should be given priority to rehabilitate the land. GLCSS notes that Karamoja has potential including solar energy which could boost mineral development and engage the community thus changing lifestyle.


Jackson Kipkemoi, a Kenyan and Logistics officer with the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF) believes the different scenario necessitates extra vigilance in Uganda. TLPF is a Kenyan charity organization that promotes peaceful coexistence and socio-economic development of poor and marginalized pastoralist communities.


 ‘’Give them development, access roads, let them see development. Government accepted the views, our community doesn’t have water, and we gave them boreholes. Some of the things making them fight is the fight over dams, solve it,’’ urged Kipkemoi.


Genesis of Gun Conflict

Karamoja’s problem cannot be explained by the long violent culture of cattle rustling and an unsustainable nomadic lifestyle alone. It is another resource conflict, perpetuated by an ever deteriorating environmental calamity. The warriors want guns partly to protect themselves from invading neighbors, but also  use the guns in raiding cattle because it has been established that in areas where the army has enforced security, the Karachuna ( Karimojong youth) organize and plan for cattle raids into other counties.


‘’Their need of guns for protection is a diversion, they use guns to go and steal,’’ urged Col. Lokech.

Right before colonial times, there were small scale raids in the region. In the beginning, they used stones, sticks and then spears and arrows as weapons but things changed in the early 1960s when the Turkana of Kenya reportedly introduced guns and the situation escalated. The Toposa of South Sudan also came in later and impacted on the crisis.

Uganda’s civil strife of the 1970s to 1980s is cited as a major opportunity that Karamojong used to seize guns. President Idi Amin’s fall in 1979 provided another opportunity; the Karimojong got more automatic riffles left behind by Amin’s fleeing soldiers. Counties turned against counties and neighboring districts attacked each other. Since then, guns have increasingly found their way to Karamoja due to trafficking from Sudan and Kenya, arms transit routes from Somalia.

Karimojong elders interviewed indicated that they had seen the dangers of the gun and want it to go. The elders also want government to protect them after they have been disarmed and want disarmament to be, ’everywhere’. They called for uniform disarmament so that they don’t become vulnerable when attacked by other armed Karimojong.

Controversy Surrounding Forceful Disarmament

Ever since forceful disarmament was launched, human rights organizations condemned it citing violations of human rights by the army. In Moroto, Uganda Human Rights Commission’s (UHRC) regional officer, Anthony Androa admitted that the issue of human rights violations is ‘touchy’.


‘’They surround and round up a village, all men and boys are taken to the barracks and detained,’’ Androa explained ‘’If you want your husband or son to come out, go and get the gun. Those detained may even stay for one or two weeks waiting for someone from the community to bring a gun.’’


The Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) has been accused of extortion, inhuman treatment of suspects, rape, torture and excessive use of force resulting in innocent civilians’ deaths during ‘cordon and search’ operations. GLCSS observes that forceful disarmament will not be without some of such unfortunate incidents given the complexity of the situation.


‘‘When the army is coming to ‘cordon and search’, the warriors are tipped off in advance and prepare to fight the army, in the process, people get injured and others die.’’ Androa explained that there were reports of defilement and rape but, ‘‘in our investigations, we get blockages.’’ In Karamoja, a girl child is ‘a form of livelihood when it comes to marriage’ because of the bride price value attached to virgin girls.


‘‘When we go down to the villages to investigate after there have been complaints, parents of the girls will do everything to conceal, even shift the girl to another village since they don’t want people to know the girls who are no longer virgins.’’


Other hindrances to investigations include the fear of reprisals and the fact that torture victims don’t go to medical centers but stay in the villages and there are no records.

‘‘Even in the case of killings, Karimojong do not bury their dead, wild animals eat up the remains and there are no postmortem reports to refer to,’’ said Androa.

Further, warriors are reported to use human shields when confronted by the army. Confrontations between the army and warriors near Manyattas (Karamajong homesteads) or in Kraals (cattle holding units) are also most likely to result in loss of property, injuries or deaths of women and children.  


 ‘’When they are using the population as human shield, that’s why cordon and search comes in,’’ explained Col. Lokech ‘’When groups of warriors are seen, we don’t cordon them.’’ 


GLCSS observes that there could be cases where by most such incidents are not known by senior command army officers and might go unpunished. The army however, does not deny the possibility of ‘mistakes’ by soldiers during ‘cordon and search’ operations.


‘’Small incidents and some mistakes shouldn’t be taken as overall truth,’’ argued Col. Lokech, ‘’the army has been accused of many things which it hasn’t done.’’ Lokech believes there are, ’wild allegations in the press’ which don’t depict the truth about the situation surrounding disarmament. This is true since recent human rights violation reports on the region have proved baseless and lacking in evidence.


‘’I am not saying that we are angels,’’ he admitted, ‘’we always explain some of those mistakes and people understand.’’ According to Lokech, ‘cordon and search’ is a UPDF mission task and they (army) are well aware that, ‘’We are operating in an area with civilian population and there is need for great care.’’


Lokech defended the use of excessive force whenever it was necessary.


‘’A helicopter gunship is a force multiplier. The infantry needs it to accomplish missions depending on the threat, he said ‘’that is a thing militaries do world wide’’


GLCSS notes that apart from possible human rights violations by the army, Karimojong criminal activities also require attention. Crimes are committed by the warriors during intercommunity or inter-county cattle raids, counter raids and road ambushes.


Forceful disarmament is a viable option despite the shortfalls, but its total success depends on whether development and livelihoods diversification is considered part of the package.


‘‘We have achieved a lot in the last four months, about 901 guns have been collected, and we get guns on a daily basis. Three to four guns on average during operations.’’ Lokech said. He pointed out that from July 2006 to 7 May 2007, a total 2,951 guns were collected after conducting military operations while figures from 30 January to 8 May, ‘‘show only 57 guns brought in voluntarily.’’


‘‘The ratio shows more guns in due to forceful military operations rather than voluntary,”’ he concluded.


What do human rights groups want?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Ms. Louise Arbour in a 19 April 2007 press release expressed concern over human rights violations and criminal acts in the region.


‘’Cease the use of indiscriminate and excessive use of force against men, women and children, and take all necessary measures, including reviewing the ongoing disarmament process, to prevent any further human rights violations.’’ Arbour is quoted urging the government.


The High Commissioner also emphasized the importance of development initiatives as a means to durable security.


‘’Ms. Arbour concluded that any disarmament process must be acompaigned by concerted and sustainable development initiatives in order to stabilize the situation in Karamoja,’’ says the statement.


‘’It is about the whole strategy, what is seen on the ground is more of disarmament. What about other pledges made?’’ asked Priscilla Ciesay, the UN’s Human Rights Officer/Karamoja Team Leader. She observed that the army is ‘trying’ and must be given credit even though it is not perfect but noted that the strategy must encompass development.


Regional Dimension

The long porous border separating Uganda from Kenya and South Sudan offers a big challenge in resolving what stands out as a regional problem that requires coordination from regional governments. Over 40, 000 guns are estimated to be in Uganda alone but a porous and insufficiently guarded border and the lack of government controls in Sudan and Kenya means an in-flow of more guns makes it worse. Kenya is a major transit route for guns from Somalia.


‘’The issue is within a regional context and requires a regional solution,’’ agreed Lokech. Apparently, there has been very little if any disarmament in Kenya. Yet, across the border in Kenya are found other illegally armed tribes posing an equal threat to regional security. The Dinka and Toposa tribes also bring in guns ‘unchecked’ from South Sudan into Uganda. South Sudan is still recovering from decades of war and it will take much more time and effort to consolidate its southerly security.


Though road ambushes have reduced in the past months, UPDF is still fighting cattle raiders and it is still impossible to give a time frame to the end of insecurity. The reality on the ground, given that no significant efforts are made in neighboring affected countries points to a dilemma for Uganda.

‘’You can’t solve this problem in a short time given the Kenya and Sudan factor,’’ admitted Lokech ‘’we are pushing it to IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development is a regional organization] level’’ the Ugandan army, nonetheless is determined to accomplish its mission in the region.


‘’We shall move in to protect the border. We want to restore law and order in Karamoja,’’ Lokech determinedly said ‘’the karimojong should know that it’s illegal to carry a gun.’’ He also pointed out that, ‘‘we are building police capacity in neighboring districts to stop infiltration by the karimojong’’ and ‘‘There is need to evaluate the threat level in order to bring in the police.’’


The Kenyan factor is of paramount importance, there is no disarmament in Kenya and unlike in Uganda where the army is involved, Kenya’s authorities are yet to look at the issue at border more seriously. In Kenya the security issue is police work and the army only engages in serious external threats. Also important to note is that this being an election year in Kenya, it means nothing much is expected from high Kenyan political levels of government to influence regional security.


‘’In our place [Kenya], the new government came with a new system, instead of disarming; they call for meetings and ask what can be done for these people. We told them in order to disarm them, best thing is to give them alternatives,’’ said Kipkemoi.


Until regional countries work out a plan to jointly deal with the security threat posed by the proliferation of small arms and pastoral community related conflicts, a significant obstacle to peace and security will remain in spite of the significant progress reported by Ugandan authorities.


‘’From April up to today intelligence reports show us that market rates are high – meaning that the gun is scarce in the markets than it used to be,’’ David Korade, Moroto District Internal Security Officer (DISO) explained that from January 2007, guns were becoming scarce in the markets, an indication that, ‘‘our pressure is being felt.’’

‘‘Before, it was between 200, 000 and 250,000 or 350, 000 Ugandan shillings but of late it has gone to over 500, 000 shillings for a gun,.’’ Korade reported.


Politics and Corruption

Local leaders and Karimojong politicians are largely accused of politicking at the expense of the people. It is highly believed that some area politicians do not want the gun to go away. A factor that has often slowed UPDF’s progress in disarming the Karimojong.


‘’They don’t want disarmament,’’ Sophie Nangiro said. ‘’There is a class of Karimojong who do not want the guns to go. They want to lead those who are still ignorant forever.’’ This was echoed by Lokech who insisted that politicians want, ‘‘to maintain their status quo.’’


It is believed that decampaigning the gun in Karamoja will make one lose votes and an election.


Corruption and mismanagement of funds in Uganda have also affected development initiatives for the region. Money set aside in the past to construct valley dams was misused and no proper valley dams constructed.


Marginalization and Lost of Economic Potential  

Karamoja’s insecurity problem is compounded by the region’s very poor climate. In spite of the regions’ long dry spells, people’s constant fear of raids and ambushes affects production. In areas where the locals could settle and engage in productive agriculture, land is abandoned for fear of raids. Ox ploughs are ever at risk and must be taken to or near army units for protection. Taking them to and from gardens is a burden since the farm lands are usually far from the army units.


Persistent loss of human life and animals in raids and road ambushes is a problem. Death of strong men especially the Karimojong youth (karachuna) during violent raids means families lose work force. Apart from that, the region’s natural resource potential is increasingly exploited without benefit to the Karimojong community.


The region has Limestone and marble deposits which could be exploited to its advantage. Moroto supply Tororo cement factory (a factory outside the region) with raw material but Karamoja doesn’t benefit from the mineral since there is no organized mechanism of exploitation to benefit the region. People in the region believe government’s response in this regard has been slow and elite Karimojong feel the region is marginalized. If government helps exploit those resources for the benefit of Karimojong, it could positively impact on the security situation. Most Karachuna for example could be persuaded to abandon their dangerous traditional lifestyle and embrace such developmental alternative sources of livelihood.


GLCSS interviews revealed that the elite Karimojong do not only feel their region has been marginalized but they also feel exploited and cheated.


‘‘A group of people is paid 70, 000 shillings to fill a 20 metric tone truck of marble and limestone. People suffer from numerous wounds, chest pains and other health problems,’’ Simon Nangiro explained ‘‘It is painful, they are just paying the laborers not paying for the mineral.’’

The company is reported to have stopped paying the Matheniko community (A Karimojong group in the limestone rich area) and is now buying and loading the mineral directly dealing with middle men. The natives feel cheated on mineral market and this too contributes to the feeling of resentment.


‘‘We have been lobbying politicians about an investor,’’ and he believes this could help solve insecurity too, ‘‘most warriors had become busy with the work at the mines.’’ Mineral development is one way to develop this region; it is a resource that can be harnessed to benefit the people.


Rubies, other ornamental stones and Gum Arabica and Aloe Vera medicinal herbs could be exploited on large scale to benefit the Karimojong.


‘‘Karimojong are pastoralists but this can gradually change if the region’s potential is well exploited.’’ Jimmy Lomakol, Karamoja Private Sector Federation officer said.


‘’Karamoja is so rich, it can contribute significantly to the economy of Uganda,’‘said Lomakol,’’in terms of resources, it has a lot of minerals which are exploited because of lack of power,’’


‘’If only we had power here and all these things were being done here,’’ he said.

According to  Lomakol, about 50 percent of Mount Moroto is composed of limestone.. Also important to note is that putting up labor intensive industries and absorbing labor force would help in creating alternative means of livelihood.



‘’Tororo cement are carrying truck loads daily, it is not insecurity, the trucks are moving daily, but they cannot set up factory here because of lack of electricity.

Other resource potentials include Amarula and Aloe Vera and other plant species.


‘’There are many others but these two plants alone can benefit Karamoja significantly,’’ insisted Lomakol.


In a 20 March 2007 scientific report from the AGOA country office, it was reported that the region and country could significantly benefit from Gum Arabica and Aloe resources in Karamoja alone.


‘‘To start economic exploitation, the provisional annual production of gum Arabic is 44,224 metric tones from a population of 44,908,500 trees at the current world market price of US $ 4 per kilogram, this gives us US $ 176,896. On the other hand, the expected annual Aloe production is 21,767 metric tons from 435,348,400 plants. This will give annual income of US $ 65,301,000 (current price is US$3 per kilogram),’’ states the Uganda Gum Arabic Cooperative Progress March 2007 report.


Another plant with great economic potential is the Jatropha Curcas (also Physic or Purging nut) which can be used in the production of biodiesel, soap and oil. It is also believed that Karamoja’s Amarula potential could be bigger than Tanzania which supplies South Africa’s Amarula industry.


In summary, Karamoja must be offered a systemic solution that includes education, resource management, development, and control of light weapons.


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