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The life of former Karimojong cattle rustlers

By Priscillar Nyamahunge

Added 4th September 2018 08:25 AM

"I had plans of getting a wife, but men would only be given respect when they presented many cows, which I did not have. I had to look for them."

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"I had plans of getting a wife, but men would only be given respect when they presented many cows, which I did not have. I had to look for them."

Former cattle rustler Korobe tending to his maize garden. (Credit: Priscilla Nyamahunge)

FROM GUNS TO HOES


Ananias Korobe was only 15 when he joined a group of rustlers in raiding the neighbouring district of Nakapiripirit. In the early 1980s, it was the only way to exhibit his “manhood”.

Together with other villagers from Matany in Napak district, they carried guns not just for safety reasons, but to kill any “obstacles”.

Korobe recalls that his very first raid yielded 74 head of cattle. And being a young boy, he was only given one cow in appreciation of his bravery during the raid. “It was the beginning of a new career; to raid as many cattle as possible,” he says.

Korobe once led hundreds of fighters. Their main occupation was to raid cattle from the neighbouring districts, the Turkana in Kenya and South Sudan’s Toposa tribe.

“We had to carry out raids. I had plans of getting a wife, but men would only be given respect when they presented many cows, which I did not have. I had to look for them,” Korobe says.

Today, he has four wives.

Getting a gun

During the overthrow of President Tito Okello in 1986, Korobe acquired his first gun from a fleeing soldier.

“The soldier was desperate and on the run. I gave him only five cows in exchange for the gun. After the raids, people who had guns got a higher number, so it was prestigious to own one,” he said.

As time went on, the number of raids increased and so did the number of cows. The more cows he had, the more weapons he acquired.

“In 2006, we went to carry out a raid in Nakapiripirit, but this time, luck was not on our side. I was captured and shot in the testicle and left unconscious. They thought I was dead, that is how I escaped,” Korobe says.

“After recovering fully, I went back and attacked them (the raiders in Nakapiripirit) in 2007. I had to get revenge on them for what they did to me."

Korobe says unfortunately, he only got 50 head of cattle after the raid. He lost his cows to other raiders in 2007. He currently has to animals (oxen and calves).

Korobe, now 54, says his glorious days of rustling are behind him. A father of 24, Korobe is now settled in Amedek village, Nabwal sub-county in Napak.

Shadrack Angol is a mechanic. He says peace has returned to Karamoja region since the disarmament exercise ended, thus guaranteeing freedom of movement 


First gun at 15

Timothy Lokut, 56, was also a cattle rustler. A resident of Iriiri village in Napak district, he lost his father at the age of two and was raised by his mother.

He acquired his first gun at the age of 15 to protect his cattle, at least in the beginning.

“We went and exchanged some cows for guns from people who had looted them from the barracks. To acquire one, I offered 30 cows. I had learnt to shoot from the Turkana while grazing cattle. Some deserters would also teach us when we were young,” Lokut, a father of 10, says.

“I wanted to protect my animals using the gun. However, many raiders from different places used to attack us, so I got fed up and decided to take my revenge."

“During the Obote II regime, after fighting for about four days in Amudat, I got shot in my left leg. Since I was a leader, my mates carried me along as others fought to keep our opponents at bay,” Lokut narrates.

In 2001, Lokut surrendered his guns and resorted to farming on a small scale. He grew sorghum, cabbages and tomatoes.

“After surrendering, we were asked to take our animals to the army barracks for protection. However, the Jie and the Turkana who had not yet surrendered their guns, attacked the barracks, overpowered them and took all the cattle. Right now, I have only five oxen, plus a few calves,” he says.

Current life Today, both Korobe and Lokut grow maize on a large scale. Lokut has an orchard at the foot of Akisim Hill in Iriiri subcounty.

The two are now members of Iriiri Centre Farmers Group, which brings together over 1,000 farmers from different sub-counties in Napak district.

Last season, the group was contracted by the World Food Programme (WFP) to supply maize. Korobe topped the list with 54 100kg bags, which earned him sh6m. John Ogwel, the secretary for quality control at the group’s store, says many former rustlers have been incorporated into agriculture.

“When I surrendered in 2007, my family members were happy. For a long time, they feared I would die in battle,” Korobe says.

“I enrolled my children at school in 1997 at the inception of Universal Primary Education. Some have now graduated and I hope they will get jobs and live better lives."

Joshua Lomonyang, the 33-year-old son of Korobe, is the district councillor for Nabwal sub-county. Lomonyang hails the Government for the disarmament programme. “Having a gun is now illegal, contrary to the past where even the women at home had acquired weapons,” he says.

Korobe and Lokut now belong to a peace committee that is charged with fighting cattle theft in the area. “When you are caught with a stolen cow, the penalty is to take back three. One is for the elders, while the two return to the person whose cow you had stolen,” Justin Tuuko, a resident of Iriiri, says.

Shadrack Angol, a mechanic in Kangole-chin village, says: “It used to be impossible for a person to move a distance without hearing a gunshot. Today, we walk about with no fear of insecurity.”

Joseph Lomonyang, the LC5 chairperson of Napak, says most people in Karamoja are now embracing government programmes, such as the Youth Livelihood Programme, Uganda Women Empowerment Programme and Operation Wealth Creation, which are helping them raise their standard of living. 

Disarmament 

Before 1979, raiders in the Karamoja region used spears. However, that same year, after the overthrow of President Idi Amin, soldiers abandoned Moroto barracks.

The Karimojong broke into the armoury and took away the firearms. They began exchanging the guns for cows among themselves.

With guns in hand, the raids intensified, causing unrest. President Yoweri Museveni offered amnesty to people who would surrender their guns. A grace period of three months was given and it elapsed in February 2002. From then on, disarmament started.

The Government had targeted 40,000 guns. However, by 2013, they had about 28,000.

What residents say . . .

  Isaac Aletia, LC1 chief, Iriiri trading centre

There is now peace in the region. Many people have now taken up different enterprises, such as running retail shops. The peace of the region is important and we should uphold it.
Mariko Lokee, 62

I have realised that one must work hard to ensure that they sustain their families. It is not just about owning several head of cattle.

 

Justin Tuuko, member of Iriiri Centre Farmers Group

We used to pride in our cattle, but we had no peace. It is better to engage in activities that do not cause bloodshed. 

 

 

 (This story was first published in the New Vision newspaper of August 23)

 

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