BY Frederick Womakuyu
For 40-year-old Wilson Lowal, a former truck driver, staring death in the face is an everyday experience in Karamoja. His eyes are filled with tears whenever he recalls that fateful day in 1989, when Karimojong warriors, armed with an AK-47, ambushed their truck on Kotido-Moroto Road, killing five of his colleagues.
About 20 warriors waylaid them at Kalosarich, 30km from Nakaperimor UPDF barracks (Kotido). They were returning from Kotido after delivering cement to the Karamoja Development Agency.
â€œAs I was driving, I saw a huge rock in the middle of the road. When I stopped, the warriors opened fire on us.â€
Lowal narrowly survived. A bullet tore his left cheek.
His colleagues, two of whom were seated in the co-driverâ€™s seat and three on top of the truck, died.
After driving on for sometime, Lowal regained his senses and realised that he was bleeding profusely.
â€œI parked the truck at Moroto and a certain businessman, who came to my rescue, drove me to Matany Hospital.â€
At the hospital, Lowal went into coma for two weeks due to excessive bleeding.
Lowal was lucky to have survived. Many people, who fall into road ambushes, do not live to tell the story. That year, two other people, a UPDF officer and a Catholic priest, Fr. John Lewiu, were also killed in ambushes. Lowal says the priest, was riding to Nakapiripirit on a motorbike when he was attacked
â€œThe warriors ordered him to stop, but he refused and was shot,â€ he says.
In May last year, Peter Adee, a senior World Food Programme truck driver and a brother to Lowal was also gunned down by the warriors. Lowal says Adee, who was the familyâ€™s breadwinner, met his death while travelling from Kotido to Kaabong.
â€œHe had gone to deliver food to the people of Kaabong. They were moving in a convoy, escorted by the UPDF, but when he left it, they shot him,â€ Lowal says.
Adeeâ€™s death was a big blow to the family.
â€œWhen I survived death, I quit my job as a driver, hoping that my brother would provide for the family of 30. How wrong was I! He is no more and I have no job to cater for the family.â€
He says his other two brothers recently died of starvation as a result of the famine in the region.
â€œWe have nothing to eat. Somebody should come to our rescue.
Lowal says memories of his narrow escape bombarded him again in August.
Two Gateway buses were ambushed, killing two people; the district agricultural officer for Kotido, Felix Sabila and the conductor, Mohamed Abdi. Six other people were rushed to Matany Hospital in critical condition.
â€œRoad ambushes have intensified and vehicles have stopped moving beyond 4:00pm,â€ he explains.
John Ogwel, the chairman of Iriiri sub-county, Moroto district, attributes the ambushes to poverty.
â€œWe have lost many animals to drought and to attacks by the Turkana. As a result, the youth are redundant and have resorted to violence to survive,â€ Ogwel says.
Ogwalâ€™s comment is confirmed by a recent report by the Social Mobilisation and Pacification of Small Arms in Karamoja, a non-governmental organisation advocating for peaceful co-existence in pastoral communities in East Africa.
â€œThe Karimojong face widespread poverty and lack basic health and education services,â€ the report states.
What are the authorities doing about it?
According to Paul Lomanio, Kotido district chairman, the UPDF has stepped up security on the Moroto-Kotido Road.
â€œI believe the insecurity will reduce. The main problem is that people lack food and have resorted to waylaying vehicles,â€ he says.
Meanwhile, the UPDF is continuing with its disarmament programme. So far, 25,000 guns have been recovered from the Karimojong, according to Aston Kajara, the state minister for Karamoja.
â€œThe move is aimed at restoring peace and order in the region. We also have programmes to help those who have been disarmed. Some of them are turning to agriculture,â€ Kajara says.
People like Lowal are far from convinced that the ambushes will end
â€œIf nothing is done to curb poverty and famine in our region, banditry and roadside ambushes will continue.â€
â€˜KARAMOJA ROAD AMBUSHES: A MEANS TO SURVIVE AMIDST BITING POVERTYâ€™