In Search of an Alternative to Cattle Raiding

Posted: December 7, 2007 in Blog

An article that ran recently… 

By Christopher Mason

MOROTO, KARAMOJA

INSIDE one of the offices in the UPDF barracks here, the results of the army-led disarmament effort in Karamoja are on full display.

There, on a board, is a collection of photographs showing rows of guns that have been collected during the campaign. Others show men sitting with the guns they have surrendered to the UPDF, including one elderly man who is said to have surrendered some 150 guns.

The photographs are meant to illustrate that guns are beginning to dissipate, or at least become less prevalent, in Karamojong villages.

With the threat of gun violence beginning to subside, government and international aid officials working in Karamoja say they are pleased with the gains made by the disarmament effort. But to a person they all agree that the key to ensuring lasting peace is providing alternative livelihoods for those who otherwise stole cattle.

“We need to give people a way out of poverty because we are trapped in a situation where there are no jobs,” said Peter Ken Lochap, Moroto district chairperson.

“Presently, when you lose your cattle, that is the end of you. When you lose your crop, that is the end of you.”

Providing alternatives to cattle, and cattle-raiding, as well as small crops that are vulnerable to Karamoja’s notoriously inconsistent rainfall is easier said than done. Unlike many other parts of the country, Karamoja lacks even the most basic infrastructure that any business needs to function.

Local officials identify three main types of infrastructure that the region lacks electricity, an acceptable system of roads and the threat of road ambushes that makes travel dangerous and expensive because of the security required to protect against such threats.

There are few examples of business enterprises in Karamoja that employ any significant number of people.

Recently, the central government took a modest step towards supporting business ventures in Karamoja by helping start a co-operative called the Uganda Gum Arabic Cooperative Society.

The start-up is trying to recruit members, at Shs20,000 for a share in the business, who will collect the sap from trees that will then be used in beauty and cleaning products.

The operation has gotten off to a slow start, and with plans to build a factory in Karamoja, its leaders will soon face the problem of how to function in a region that lacks even the most basic support infrastructure.

“This region needs power,” said Timothy Lolem, the cooperative’s chairman, adding that it will likely take private investment in wind and solar alternatives for electricity to reach Karamoja.

The entire region, covering five districts and nearly one million people, is not connected to the electricity grid. Moroto town has a large generator that provides power to about 7,000 residents for five hours most evenings.

Otherwise, Karamojong have to produce their own electricity through generators or solar-power systems both too expensive for all but the best-funded institutions.”The region has been kept in darkness for too long,” Mr Lochap said.

Road infrastructure, like much of rural Uganda, has been a significant problem for business prospects in Karamoja. The centre of Moroto boasts the only sealed road in Karamoja. Many other roads routinely cross dry riverbeds, so in periods of heavy rains these roads can easily become impassable.

And then there is the issue of road ambushes. Moroto district officials boast that the district has not experienced a road ambush in over nine months, and international aid agencies in the area say the security situation has improved.

But assessing the threat of road ambushes is difficult, given the presence of many variables. All it takes is a group of cattle raiders returning empty-handed, a cattle herder who feels threatened or a vehicle being in the wrong place at the wrong time for an ambush to occur.

In an effort to address the problems of both road infrastructure and travel security that hinder potential business enterprises, the European Commission has funded a project to rebuild 600km of unpaved roads in Karamoja, particularly along the region’s eastern border with Kenya. The project is meant to improve transportation capabilities and also increase the ability of the government and UPDF to patrol the region.

On top of that, the EC and Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister are offering some Shs9 billion to NGOs with project ideas that will offer alternative livelihoods in the region.

The move is seen as an important step to fill the void left now that cattle-raiding is becoming an increasingly less viable option. It is an effort local officials in Karamoja say is needed in settling whether the current trend towards peace will be a temporary phase, or part of a long-term cultural shift.

“The key is to divert people from the cattle, the guns, to an alternative way of life,” said Moses Kapolon, acting CAO for Moroto district.

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