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Disarmament good, should go on

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th January 2007 03:00 AM

The Karimojong use the gun with impunity. For decades, no one in the region and neighbouring districts has been spared. For this reason, the on-going disarmament exercise should continue, according to the UPDF and some Karimojong leaders.

The Karimojong use the gun with impunity. For decades, no one in the region and neighbouring districts has been spared. For this reason, the on-going disarmament exercise should continue, according to the UPDF and some Karimojong leaders.

By Alice Emasu

The Karimojong use the gun with impunity. For decades, no one in the region and neighbouring districts has been spared. For this reason, the on-going disarmament exercise should continue, according to the UPDF and some Karimojong leaders.

In 2002, the warriors killed an Irish Catholic priest, the Rev. Fr. Michael O’toole Declan, his driver Patrick Longoli and cook, Fidele Longole. Declan who was attached to the Panyangara Catholic parish in Kotido, was ambushed at Kalosaric, 3km away from a UPDF barracks on the Moroto-Kotido road.

Records from The New Vision reveal that in 1999, the warriors killed over 800 civilians in three months, during ethnic clashes between the Bokora and the Matheniko. In July, the warriors killed 40 UPDF soldiers and several civilians and confiscated expensive equipment like armoured cars. Over 200 people were killed in August and more than six hundred were massacred in September.

For the past 50 years, Karamoja has suffered a lot of family, inter-clan, and inter-tribe conflicts, resulting into massive loss of life and property, and degeneration of moral values. This is according to a report by the Katakwi Urafiki Foundation.

Katakwi Resident District Commissioner, Thomas Nyalulu, who previously worked in Karamoja, says the guns have caused several deaths among the Karimojong, making them willing to surrender them, but they first need to be educated.

Women bear the brunt of the misuse of guns. Medical records at Moroto Hospital show that by September 2004, 130 women had received treatment from gunshot injuries. They had been shot by their partners during domestic brawls.

The most recent murder of 16 UPDF soldiers, including the commanding officer of the 67th battalion, Maj. Kaamu Rwanshande on October 31 last year, did not come as a surprise. The soldiers died while carrying out a cordon-and-search operation at Lupuyo village, Rengen sub-county, five miles north of Kotido town.

Two out of the 68 warriors who were rounded up on suspicion of participating in the murder, are to be court-martialed, says Major Felix Kulayigye, the UPDF spokesperson. “Government will ensure that justice prevails,” he says.

Some local leaders say the killings were sparked off by two dancers at a traditional ceremony.

However, Henry Oboo, the 3rd Division army spokesman, says the killings were as a result of the improved security measures to disarm the warriors.

The disarmament programme was re-introduced by the Government in 2001. At the initial stages, the Government employed a voluntary approach in which warriors were compensated after they gave up their guns. They received gifts like iron sheets, certificates, food and ox ploughs. This method was not successful. Less than 1,000 guns were recovered.

Those who surrendered their guns became vulnerable to those who abused the exercise, forcing the Government to introduce the forceful method — cordon and search.

A resolution was made during a meeting by ActionAid International, to disseminate study findings on child-trafficking in Karamoja.

Government officials and representatives of NGOs from Moroto, Kotido and Katakwi districts noted that cases of killings of non-Karimojong were on the rise.

Nyalulu said warriors have used their guns to slow down development efforts of the Government and other partners. Little is being done by the Karimojong themselves to end their historical suffering.

The disarmament exercise, which is aimed at providing an alternative source of livelihood, is not being supported by some Karimojong district leaders, he explained.

It is unfortunate that the disarmament exercise was hatched under a lot of pressure on the Government from neighbouring districts. As a result, Nyalulu says the Government underlooked the need to compensate the warriors who surrendered their guns. “The Karimojong exchange their cows for acquiring guns and cannot part with them without being compensated,” he says.

Terrence Achia, Bokoro MP, says a Karimojong pays between three and four cows to acquire a gun.

Previously, they used to part with up to 20 cows. He views the problems of Karamoja as a creation of their pastoral culture.

Achia proposed that a place be established between the Bokora, Jie and Matheniko area, where there is a no-man’s land, to stop the pastoralists from fighting each other over grazing land and water sources.

“Once this is effected, it will be easy for the Government to recover the guns. To sustain the peace, the move should be followed by making it mandatory for the pastoralists to graze their animals together.

Disarmament should not be suspended because of the killings of the soldiers. There should be joint strategic planning involving the local leaders in Karamoja, the Government and the development partners,” Achia says.
Kulayigye says: “The Karimojong elite should sensitise the locals and encourage other Ugandans to support their development. The under-development problem could only be solved if the people in the region diversify their sources of income, other than depending entirely on cattle.”

While some analysts argue that stopping proliferation of small arms into Karamoja would facilitate faster development, Kulayige observes that it is not easy to control the arms flow as long as there are still conflicts in neighbouring countries.

Oboo is optimistic that the disarmament exercise will succeed. The army is in collaboration with other security organs like the Internal Security Organisation.

The Police have successfully managed to uproot and forcefully recover guns from warriors’ hideouts, which were previously thought to be a no-go area for the Army.

“Since we began the cordon-and-search operation in May last year, we have been recovering 6.7 guns daily, on average. The Government also beefed up security. Between October and December 2006, we were able to dislodge the warriors from their hideouts in Moroto and Kadam Mountains in Nakapiripirit and Morungole in Moroto,” Obbo says.

A total of 61 warriors were successfully tried and sentenced for various crimes including illegal possession of firearms and ambushes, in addition to murder.

Oboo notes that since then, the number of ambushes and killings have drastically reduced — one ambush in December, compared to four cases recorded in April 2006.
There were only two incidences of killings in which four people died after two vehicles they travelled in were shot at. He attributes this success to the relative peace in northern Uganda. “Since the Government intervened after the murder of the 16 soldiers, the atmosphere is now calm,” Oboo says.

However, the success of the disarmament exercise is yet to be felt by neighbouring communities.

Disarmament good, should go on

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