UGANDA: Making the most of security and livelihood gains in Karamoja
KOTIDO, 25 October 2011 (IRIN) - Catherine Namoe straightens up from the
back-breaking task of harvesting cow pea leaves to answer some questions. It
is tough work, she says, and the men do not help much. Even if the rain does
not come again to turn the plant's yellow flowers into pea pods, the leaves
can be dried and stored for a while, and may help feed her family over the
long, hungry season in Uganda's northeastern region of Karamoja.
Namoe's options are slim. She gestures towards distant hills rising out of
the semi-arid savannah. She could spend a day walking there, barefoot, cut a
bundle of firewood from the remaining trees, take it to the nearest trading
centre and sell it for a possible 500 Ugandan shillings (US$0.20) - enough
to buy a cupful of kerosene or cooking oil or a few spoonfuls of sugar.
Yet her story is a tale of relative and still uncertain success. She and her
fellow 1.1 million Karamojong, who come from more than 20 inter-related
ethnic groups, are experiencing an unprecedented period of peace and
Karamoja has been marginalized on several levels. The 28,000 sqkm region is
difficult to access and it is not on the national power grid. The few
businesses in the small towns and trading centres rely on diesel generators
- and fuel costs 20 percent more than in the capital, Kampala. School and
health services are more limited than anywhere else in Uganda. Most
Karamojong struggle just to feed themselves; as recently as 2007, the UN
World Food Programme (WFP) was providing emergency food aid to almost the
Poverty has resulted from decades of under-investment but also from the
implosion of traditional livelihoods. Most Karamojong are semi-nomadic
pastoralists; men once moved with their herds in search of pasture as the
seasons and years dictated and clans coped with lean years by raiding cattle
from neighbours. But the steady spread of modern weapons, aggravated by the
spillover of armed conflict from the Lord's Resistance Army insurrection in
northern Uganda, resulted in the cattle-raiding habit escalating into a
spiral of insecurity.
Earlier government efforts to stabilize the region had limited success, but
a sustained disarmament campaign over the past few years has fared better.
Human rights groups have criticized the force that government troops at
times deployed in the campaign, but observers agree that the violence has
now abated, at least for the time being.
Peace is "like a new ideology", says Milton Lopira, who heads a local NGO,
the Warrior Squad Foundation, in Kotido, one of four districts forming
Karamoja. He stresses that people were sick of the violence and lawlessness,
which made everyone a loser. Young men, raised as cattle-raiding warriors,
"now have an opportunity to engage in non-violent activities and they are
ready and willing to change".
Uganda's central government is determined to convert the peace dividends
into development dividends.
"We want to see how [local people's] minds can be engaged in production so
that they are not at the periphery but participating in development
alternatives," Pius Bigirimana, permanent secretary in Uganda's Office of
the Prime Minister, told IRIN.
The PM's office coordinates a Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and
Development Programme that has gathered pace over the past two years, with
growing support from international donors.
According to Bigirimana, plans are in place for tarring the 170km road from
Mbale, to the south of Karamoja, to Moroto, in the region's centre. Power
lines will also come to Moroto from Soroti, to the west.
Bigirimana is reluctant to specify a timetable for these major projects, but
says tens of millions of dollars have been firmly committed to more than a
dozen substantial dam-building and irrigation schemes and that work on many
has already begun.
In addition, over the past two years the government has supplied seeds, ox
ploughs and hoes to groups of households willing to work the land, and has
opened up 4,047 hectares of land though a tractor hire scheme.
International donors have also switched from emergency relief to investment
in "productive assets". Notably, WFP is testing what Hakan Tongul, deputy
country director for Uganda, calls "a new strategic approach to ending
hunger". WFP still provides food aid through schools, to infants at risk of
malnutrition and to especially vulnerable families, but the main thrust of
its operations in Karamoja is now to give food or cash to people working on
projects to diversify and strengthen their own livelihoods.
These projects, implemented through NGOs contracted by WFP, offer
communities a "menu" of options, including planting crops, improving rural
roads and small-scale water conservation and harvesting.
"There has been amazing interest in the communities," Tongul told IRIN,
especially in food cropping. Some 450,000 people have benefited from the
programme over the past two years - Namoe is one.
The new approach has coincided with two consecutive years of good rains -
after several previous years of drought - yielding decent harvests of
sorghum, millet, cassava, cow peas, ground nuts, sunflowers and sesame. The
evidence is visible everywhere in Kotido, where groups of women pound
sorghum while men sit in the shade making wicker baskets to carry the
harvest home and domestic granaries to store it.
But what happens if the rains are not so good next year? According to Martin
Orem, coordinator of the Coalition of Pastoral Civil Society Organizations
in Uganda (COPASCO), Karamoja's low and irregular rainfall makes agriculture
very difficult, explaining the region's traditional, pastoral economy; in
times of drought herds can be moved - crops cannot.
Orem welcomes increased government attention to Karamoja but worries that
"very senior people are saying that pastoralism is outdated, keeping our
people in poverty, remaining backward". He calls for closer consultation
with communities in framing development plans.
"We recognize there must be change and we know for sure that pastoralists
want to diversify their livelihoods, but it would be unfortunate for
government to think they can think for communities," he added.
Lopira of the Warrior Squad Foundation agrees, noting that many projects
fail "because they are not properly consulting the people".
"The government position is that people should settle; we understand... It
is very difficult and expensive to provide services to pastoralists. If you
help people to settle it will be more cost-effective to provide basic
services," said Omar Ayman, Oxfam Uganda country director. "[But] this may
not be the best option for arid and semi-arid environments... If we decide
on your behalf that we're going to make you a farmer, that's not right."
Declining livestock numbers
The drive to promote alternative livelihoods in Karamoja has been
accompanied by a drop in animal numbers. Sources in Kotido agreed that herds
have declined steeply, for different reasons. Some herders said the Jie
people - the largest ethnic community in the district - were the first group
to disarm, and were then raided by other clans. Others say the government's
security forces seized and sold many animals that were placed in collective
cattle camps guarded by the army.
Animal husbandry experts acknowledged both factors, but added that the camps
also became breeding grounds for disease after a long period of neglect in
veterinary extension services.
Statistical evidence is hard to find but there is a marked discrepancy in
recent figures. A 2009 stock survey by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics found
more than two million head of cattle in Karamoja, but a vaccination campaign
spearheaded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2010 found fewer
than one million. Margins of error could explain some of the discrepancy,
but not all of it. There may be more cow peas in Karamoja than ever before,
but there do seem to be fewer cows.
In addition, there is a question of rights. "The Karamojong think they own
the land but they don't," says an activist, who preferred anonymity. He
explained that many of the more fertile areas were gazetted for conservation
many years ago.
The region is also thought to have significant mineral deposits, few of
which have yet been tapped, and expanded mining could spell future conflict
But people seem no longer to be living in fear and, promisingly, moves are
under way to transfer security duties from military to civil authorities.
No-one disputes that improved security was the first and most urgent step
towards improving lives for the Karamojong. Yet the construction of a new
Karamoja, more integrated into the rest of Uganda, is likely to be a long
and contested process.
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Received on Tue Oct 25 2011 - 17:56:07 EDT