In Karamoja, guns are like walking sticks. An estimated 300,000 guns are in civilian hands in the region
In Karamoja, guns are like walking sticks. An estimated 300,000 guns are in civilian hands in the region. The disarmament process that began around 2001 has so far netted only 10,000 guns.
Lt Col.Jacob Loumo, who is involved in the disarmament process, says they are working hard for complete disarmament in the region. The basic weapon in Karamoja used to be the spear, then the 1979 liberation war came, Aminâ€™s soldiers in Moroto Military Garrison fled leaving a full armoury open. Guns became tools of necessity to the Karimojong. A man could not only defend his kraal with fire power but also fill it with stolen cattle.
You must be the first to shoot or you will get shot. It is normal to see herdsmen roaming freely with guns slung across the shoulders. If you donâ€™t carry one, your cows can be grabbed and you will be lucky to escape.
But the Karimojong have another use of the gun. To follow â€˜our cowsâ€™ still with other tribes. The Karimojong believe all cattle in the world belong to them. It is the life mission of every Karimojong young man to recover â€˜theirâ€™ property.
And with the boost of guns, the drive to recover â€˜our cowsâ€™ began in earnest. The graph chart of Karimojong cattle rustling in Acholi, Lango, Teso and Sebei shows that rustling began in 1980 and reached the peak around 1988. The late eighties witnessed astronomical loss of livestock from neighbouring districts to Karamoja. The loss has been valued at about sh50b.
By 1997, there was serious talk of disarming the Karimojong. A disarmament act was passed by Parliament in 2000. The reason being that guns in Karamoja were making the area and neighbouring districts insecure. Gun battles were common even over petty issues at drinking places.
â€œWe are not bad people,â€ says Adome Lokwi, the LC5 chairman, Kotido District. We have long been neglected. the first institution in Karamoja was a prison. With a 12% literacy rate, what can you do?â€ he poses.
Adome says a serious disarmament programme is needed and that the one in place is a â€˜jokeâ€™. â€œI am advocating total disarmament after which the Government should protect the property of the Karimojong,â€ he adds.
Father Franz Pffaf of Naoi Catholic Mission, Moroto, also thinks the disarmament programme has been haphazard. â€œThey did not involve us and sensitisation was not given enough time,â€ says Pffaf who, with Sister Paulina Lopez, is involved in a peace building initiative with Anglican, Pentecostal and other religious leaders. He says religious leaders should have been involved from the planning stage of the disarmament process.
He said people in Kampala get it wrong when they describe cattle theft as conflict when it is a game to the Karimojong. He said what Karamoja needed was transformation from a culture of violence to a culture of peace.
Surprisingly, many Karimojong willingly gave the Government their guns. But their cattle soon fell prey to neighbours who had kept their guns. They jumped to conclusion that the Government had tricked them.
Many have since re-armed purely for self-defence.
There is a thriving market for small arms in Agoro and Orom in Kitgum, according to a former OXFAM worker. Karimojong warriors deliver cows in exchange for guns and bullets.
Gun running is said to be a profitable trade in these markets involving Ugandans, Sudanese and other nationals. Information on the ground indicates that at a certain point, the army began demanding for arms using threats and violence and hence discrediting the whole process.
Michael Lokawua, the presidential assistant on disarmament, plans to engage the institution of elders in bringing law and order to Karamoja.
The rule of law is weak in the Karamoja region. There are reportedly only seven policemen in Moroto. Informal government is stronger than formal government in Karamoja and the word of the elders is law. If the resident district commissioner is a Karimojong, he is a child. If non-Karimojong he is just a visitor or foreigner.
â€œI have a plan,â€ says Lokawua, I will not do anything before I constitute a council of elders, they are the people who will be listened to,â€ he says. Lokawua says cattle robbers are criminals who should be apprehended. Some Karimojong politicians are accused of supporting cattle theft.
Gun culture persists in Karamoja