By Halima Abdallah Kisule
– Kampala, Uganda –
The ongoing disarmament process in Karamoja has taken a nasty turn as Karachunas (warriors) are engaging the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers in battle, escalating an already bad security situation in the region.
For a long time, the warriors furthered illegal gun trafficking with weapons sourced from Sudan and Kenya. They also engaged in cattle rustling, looting, ambushes, and the killings and raping of women within and outside Karamoja, ultimately sending thousands of people in the neighboring areas within Uganda into displacement for the past 20 years.
Public servants and even some NGO’s are unable to go to the area to monitor or implement their projects. The Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and National Agricultural Advisory Services, both under the Ministry of Agriculture, have failed to send a monitoring team to the region since last year. They have been unable to assess progress in the region, and to monitor how government money is being spent on social services. Movement is only possible with an armed military escort. The World Food Programme, for example, works in the region and always travels escorted.
“Karamoja is more insecure for now. The north is more peaceful. People are now going about their businesses in the north,” said Army Spokesman Maj. Felix Kulaigye. The north has been insecure since 1987, when the Lord Resistant Army (LRA) rebels waged war against President Yoweri Museveni’s government. Until last August, when peace talks began, the LRA abducted children, raped women, maimed, killed and caused massive displacement of people in the north and eastern Uganda.
However, the security situation in Karamoja, according to Kulaigye, is not as bad as it was in December 2006.
Insecurity partly accounts for the underdevelopment of the region. If it persists, the locals will continue to be impoverished.
The Karamoja region is semi-arid, comprised of the five districts of Kotido, Kaabong, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, and Abim, located in northeastern Uganda. Bordering the country are Kenya and Sudan. The majority of the people in Karamoja are pastoralists.
This is the third effort by the Uganda government to disarm the Karamojong warriors. It is also the most violent attempt since President Museveni launched the exercise in July 2002.
Kulaigye said that the first exercise was peaceful and voluntary. Over 10,000 guns were surrendered during this phase (2002 thru the end of 2003). The warriors were given ox-ploughs in exchange for guns.
However, Kulaigye explained that the exercise was suspended prematurely because the UPDF had to fight the Lord Resistant Army (LRA) rebels who intensified their activities and penetrated into the Teso region in Eastern Uganda.
The aim of the disarmament is to stop Karamojong from terrorizing their neighbours within Uganda, Kenya and Sudan, stop inter-clan fighting amongst the warriors and stop illegal gun trafficking. None of which stopped.
Kulaigye said that, shortly after, the president went back to launch a committee that would continue to oversee the peaceful and voluntary disarmament in 2004. Only 1,796 guns were surrendered by January 2006.
The other implementation was a campaign of on-the-spot disarmament of any warriors who ambushed vehicles, raided or moved through public places holding a gun.
On-the-spot disarmament did not stop the Karamojong from carrying their guns in public places. Karamojong warriors always use guns when herding their cattle anywhere.
Kulaigye said the army was forced to adopt a tougher tactic. In May 2006, the UPDF introduced cordon and search operations based on intelligence information. Usually, the UPDF move in and cordon the suspected area in the early morning, asking locals to voluntarily surrender their guns before searching their huts. Since then, the army has recovered 6,000 guns.
Around July 2006, the army employed yet another tactic of arresting the wives or relatives of warriors and then detaining them. The army would then send a message to the warriors, who are normally in hiding in the bushes, to surrender their guns in exchange of for their family. This worked very well, but Kulaigye said the army stopped because it abused the rights of persons arrested when they had not committed an offense.
The army and local politicians agree that the cordon and search tactic is okay, but the warriors are determined to cling to their guns at whatever cost. Kaabong District Chairman, Mr. Sam Lokeris, agrees that the guns are in the hands of hardcore criminals who want to use them for raids. He calls for strategic deployment of UPDF to safeguard those who have surrendered their guns from any raids and to involve clan leaders in the exercise. Lokeris estimated that about 10 guns could be in each Manyatta, but more are still flowing in from cheap gun markets in southern Sudan. A gun sells for 200,000 shillings (about $114) or three local cows.
(A Manyatta is comprised of several huts, one per family, in a large enclosure with one entrance. It is normally built from thorn trees and serve to protect them from raids. It is a settlement pattern found all over the region).
General Aronda Nyakairima recently told the press that the cordon and search tactic will continue. He said that the army is also using helicopters to identify warriors’ hideouts in the mountains.
But several warriors have crossed into Sudan and Kenya with their guns and cattle as they run away from the disarmament.
“That is true, some warriors in my area have gone with their guns and animals to Sudan,” Lokeris said.
Asked if the disarmament will be successful, Lokeris said, “I can’t imagine. That is what I don’t know.”
About the Author: Halimah Abdallah Kisule is a journalist in northern Uganda who, for the last seven years, has covered human rights, health, diplomacy, politics and education for numerous news outlets. She holds a diploma in Journalism and Media Studies and will soon receive her BA in Education from Makere University in Kampala.
Previously she worked for the independent newspapers, covering law and human rights issues, providing both with extensive investigative journalism.
Halimah endeavors to use her writing skills to bring awareness to the human struggle and find solutions to society’s problems. She is married with two children.