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Will Karimojong warriors ever disarm?

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th July 2008 03:00 AM

The Karimojong are nomads that still lead an 18th century lifestyle of raiding their neighbours for cattle.
Located in north east, they occupy 27,200km2 of semi-arid savannah, bush and mountains. The Karimojong consist of the Dodoth, Jie, Bokora, Matheniko and the Pian.

The Karimojong are nomads that still lead an 18th century lifestyle of raiding their neighbours for cattle.
Located in north east, they occupy 27,200km2 of semi-arid savannah, bush and mountains. The Karimojong consist of the Dodoth, Jie, Bokora, Matheniko and the Pian.

By Frederick Womakuyu

The Karimojong are nomads that still lead an 18th century lifestyle of raiding their neighbours for cattle.
Located in north east, they occupy 27,200km2 of semi-arid savannah, bush and mountains. The Karimojong consist of the Dodoth, Jie, Bokora, Matheniko and the Pian.


The problem
Because of unpredictable rainfall, the Karimojong often look for encampments for pasture for their cattle, which usually ends in rustling.

“The Karimojong believe all cattle belongs to them. This is because cattle are used for bride price and raids are a symbol of manhood,” said Andrew Bagalana, a specialist on Karamoja, working with Amnesty International.

From 1970-1980 when Uganda suffered civil strife, the Karimojong acquired guns from soldiers. “These arms gave the Karimojong an advantage over their neighbours whom they attack; rustle cattle, and destroy property,” said Mark Lochieng, the Kotido Chief Administrative Officer.

Several unsuccessful efforts were made by different governments to stop the Karimojong from terrorising their neighbours until 1986 when President Yoweri Museveni, came to power.

Phillip Timu, the LC5 chairman of Kaabong, said: “President Museveni saw the need to save the Ateso and Bagisu who bore the brunt of the Karimojong.”

The Government, especially between 1997 and 2001, established programmes to remove guns from the Karimojong.

In December 2000, Parliament passed the disarmament act, whose objectives were: Kenya and Sudan to stop inter-clan terrorism with Karamoja and infiltration of arms.

They deployed UPDF and local vigilantes in strategic positions to enforce this. The Government also offered incentives for the Karimojong to disarm, including iron sheets and ox-ploughs to whoever disarmed.

“There was optimism regarding the transformation of the Karimojong, from dependency on the cow to other sources of income,” said Bagalana. “Indeed between 2002 and 2003, cattle rustling was reduced to a few incidents of theft.”

However, according to Bagalana, the disarmament had some shortcomings:

“Because of corruption, people who did not disarm got the iron sheets, for example in Panyangara and Nakapelimuro sub-counties in Kotido. Many were relatives of politicians.

Distributing ox-ploughs to some groups was impractical. For example, the Pokot likened using ox-ploughs to punishment of their animals. The Tepeth in the mountains sold their ploughs because the steep terrain would not allow their use.

The Karimojong had to travel long distances to the arms’ collection centres at district headquarters. “Compared to the costs of buying arms, the incentive for people to disarm wasn’t worth it,” said Timu.

Forceful disarmament
According to SNV.com, a Netherlands Development organisation, the UPDF launched to recover illegal arms after the 2002 disarmament deadline.

“They recovered 1,949 guns from Karamoja and 763 from Kapchorwa,” it says.

Failure of the disarmament
In March 2002, hardly a month after forceful disarmament had been launched; the Government withdrew the UPDF to deal with Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel activities in northern Uganda.

Success of the disarmament
When LRA insurgency quelled down, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) returned to Karamoja leading to voluntary disarmament from 2003 to date.

“About 25,000 guns have been recovered and cattle rustling has reduced,” says Hon. Aston Kajara, minister of state for Karamoja affairs.

Roadside ambushes have died out. “We are providing them with hoes and pangas to practice agriculture. A number of demonstration farms have opened,” Kajara said.

The UPDF has been deployed in Karamoja to stop cattle rustlers from crossing into Teso, Sebei and Turkana in Kenya.

But Bagalana is pessimistic: “In spite of the efforts to curb insecurity, it persists.” This has says is caused by unemployed youth (Karacuna). “There are no economic activities that can pre-occupy them,” he adds.

He concludes that the proliferation of small arms has continued unabated, re-igniting the situation.

Will Karimojong warriors ever disarm?

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