Karamoja remains high on the National Resistance Movementâ€™s (NRM) agenda and President Museveni was spot on by appointing Hon. Janet Museveni as the State Minister for Karamoja Affairs. As I congratulate Mrs Museveni for having been appointed a minister, for the first time, I must point out that she takes over the ministry at a time when a lot needs to be changed and a lot more desires to be done to build Karamoja region. The tasks before her are many and the hopes of the Karamoja inhabitants are high.
When a similar job was offered to John Butime some time back, he decided to resign basing on reasons best known to him. Perhaps he was scared by the gravity of the problems in the region and instead of offering himself for a possible failure, he thought it better not to take up the offer. I hope, Mrs Museveni will not let our President down.
Over the years, Karamoja has been plunged into insecurity, hunger, human rights abuses and extreme poverty.
It remains the most backward region in Uganda, with 80% illiteracy rate and 82% of the population living below the poverty line. Despite the provision of free primary education by the Government, over 50% of school-age children in Karamoja are not in schools.
Many parents do not send their children to school because they want them to help in cattle-keeping and family chores. Malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea continue to spread in the region with no corresponding response from the health sector to curb the maladies.
Where as the disarmament process has brought relative peace in the region, there is need to consolidated it and harmonise it with development. It should be recalled that some warriors have gone hiding with their guns and they occasionally attack the already disarmed communities for cattle and food, causing loss of lives and destruction of property. A combination of all these hardships has forced many women and children to leave their homes and sought refugee on the streets of Kampala and other towns in Eastern Uganda.
As a minister for Karamoja affairs and a first Lady, Mrs Museveni should sit down her team and think through a strategy that will not only bring about sustainable peace in Karamoja, but will cause social transformation and ignite economic growth in the region.
An integrated approach focusing on solving the community needs of the Karimojongs and ensuring their full participation in causing development in the areas would be the most suitable as opposed to ad-hoc interventions by a few development agencies which simply offer and irregularly offer food handouts to the already starving populace.
Instead of using force to disarm the warriors, the Government should first seek dialogues with the Karimojong leaders and elders on the best way of ensuring peace without making other communities within the area more vulnerable to attacks from the warriors. The Government should also use incentives to the warriors to stimulate voluntary handing over of guns. The Food for Gun programme in Liberia for example has enabled many former rebels to seek amnesty and voluntarily give in their guns in exchange for food. Apparently, to many starving Karimojongs, food is now more important than holding a gun and such a programme would cause many warriors to willingly submit their guns to the army with haste.
The Government should also put in place infrastructures that can facilitate development in the region. It is a shame that as I write this article, there are only five health centres and no single tarmac road in Karamoja, a region comprising of five districts with an estimated population of over 1.1 million people.
As the minister works towards attaining all these, she has also to ensure that the children and women who have abandoned Karamoja in search of safer havens elsewhere, are rehabilitated, resettled and integrated into their families.
Mrs Museveni, the Karimojongs have many expectations from your appointment and are eager to see many changes happening in their region during your tenure as their minister.
The writer is a Ugandan working in Nairobi, Kenya
We need a new approach to solving Karamoja problems