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Turkana Community in Karamoja Threaten Not to Hand Over Guns to Government

Turkana and karimojong pastoralists in a security meeting with UPDF at Naput village, Rupa sub county. PHOTO BY GODRED EYOKU

The Turkana communities in Karamoja region of north eastern Uganda have threatened not to hand over guns to government if there is no plan to compensate them.

Mzee Ekeno Lopuko Zakarya, a Turkana kraal leader and a resident of Naput parish in Lotisan sub county, Moroto district said that they rather take back their guns to burry in Turkana than handing it over to Ugandan government.

He said they always buy these guns implying that handing it over just for free may not work unless if UPDF is willing to compensate them.

“We always buy our guns for security purposes and we have never used it for other dubious acts apart from only protecting our kraals, our very brothers from karimojong community are the ones who provoke us. That’s why sometimes we are forced to retaliate back at them,” Ekeno said.

Mzee-Ekenoa-Turkana kraal leader during his speech during the community meeting held recently.

Mana Lopor, another Turkana elder residing in the same parish raised they as Turkan do not use their guns for looting but for protecting their animals.

Mary Akol, the parish councillor for Naput requested Government to compensate those people who will hand over their guns voluntarily as a mode of motivation for others who may still be hiding to come out.

She said that Karimojong warriors have been surviving using these gun, therefore disarming them without any support may put their lives at risk or even go for more guns since it’s the only alternative source of a living.

According to her, in order for the government to succeed in this mission of the disarmament exercise, then no mistake should be made that these Karimojong are left without anything to support their families.

“If these people are not compensated, it will be a waste of time because the source or markets of these guns are still open which enables them to acquire at any time so long as they want,” said Akot.

Meanwhile the Uganda people’s defence forces have given the Turkana pastoralists only two weeks to hand over their guns to Ugandan government or else they return back to Kenya.

Brig. Joseph Balikudembe, the UPDF 3rd Division Commander accused the Turkana community for selling guns to Karimojong warriors, who later use the riffles for raiding.

According to the Commander, government shall only compensate the warriors if they embrace peace and stop destabilizing the current development in Karamoja.

He said it is criminal for a civilian to own a gun in Uganda and if they refuse to hand over the riffles, army will continue with its course.

“It is only government which buys them for protecting its citizens and therefore the army is going to conduct a serious cordon and search operations to collect all the illegal guns which are still in the hands of these criminals.

However, Brig. Balikudembe reminded the two pastoral communities of the benefits and peace that will prevail without necessarily having a gun- which is a big source of insecurity.

He warned the Turkana community that the ongoing disarmament operations in Karamoja will not leave them exceptional to the exercise and whoever gets arrested with an illegal gun will be prosecuted in the courts of law

Immanuel Imana, the Turkana Elder based in Lodwar County in Kenya applauded the Ugandan authorities for allowing the Turkana pastoralists to graze their animals in Karamoja land.

He says given the fact that Turkana is based on a serious desert, all their animal could have died if it was not because of good relationship between the two communities.

Mzee Imana vowed to talk to his Turkana community and work in closed hands with Ugandan authorities to address the issues of the illegal guns.

Brig. Joseph Balikudembe on the right and the reformed senior cattle raider who handed over his gun voluntarily and now the peace Ambassader.

Tricked by Waragi

Meanwhile, the Turkana pastoral communities living in Moroto have accused Karimojong warriors for using crude waragi as a trick to make them drunk and later on they make off with their cattle.

Mzee Ekeno said that most cattle raiders trick people to waragi to pulp before animals are stolen.

Mzee adds that besides losing animals to raiders, the same waragi has fuelled domestic violence in most families.

Mana Lopor, another Turkana elder residing in the same parish raised fears that if this waragi business is not stopped, they shall continue losing animals because looters always target them when they are drunk and cannot do anything to stop the raiders.

Lopor urged the Karimojong and Turkana pastoral communities to put aside their differences and embrace peace as a key component for the betterment of their children who always suffer as a result of insecurity.

According to Francis Chemusto, the Mt. Moroto Regional Police Commander,  the selling of crude waragi in Karamoja is illegal and they are trying their best as police to restrict it.

Chemusto disclosed to Aica that Police has so far arrested several people involved in waragi business, with already 1,000 jerrycans impounded, adding that  they are only wait for court orders to dispose it.

Th Disarmament Campaign

In May 2021, the Ugandan government started a new disarmament campaign in its Karamoja region to address rising insecurity and cattle theft. But the experience of the previous disarmament campaign highlights the need for community engagement and scrutiny over methods. Saum Naungiro discusses the recent history of Karamoja’s violence and the challenges for a sustainable solution.

In north-eastern Uganda, Karamoja is home to about one million people from eight main population groups, a majority of which share a language and pastoralist culture. It is the poorest and least developed region of Uganda on almost all measures; rainfall is irregular, and a significant proportion of the population is typically food-insecure at any time.

Between 2006 and 2011 the government engaged in a disarmament exercise to attempt to end a culture of cattle raiding that had become increasingly destructive since automatic weapons became available in the late 1970s, both within and beyond Karamoja’s borders. Due to constant aggravated deaths and raiding in Karamoja region, the Government of Uganda is opting to carry out yet another disarmament exercise.

Is This Connected to Climate Change?

Karamoja region has experienced relative peace for a decade following a successful disarmament exercise that started in 2006, by force, which later became voluntary in conjunction with a range of stakeholders including local communities and civil society organisations. The negative impact of the presence of small and light weapons, and its contribution to the breakdown of the region’s social fabric, was recognised as uncontainable by the efforts of security agencies alone.

More recently there has been an increase in raiding amongst Karamojong communities and the neighbouring regions of Acholi and Teso. In the most recent incident on 1st February, 2021, there was a fire exchange between armed warriors and the army detach in Kotido district.

In Napak district alone, more than 50 lives have so far been lost since the insecurity started, leading to a peaceful protest in the community rallying with the slogan ‘Napak is bleeding’.

These incidents started as a conflict between pastoral communities straddled along the Kenya-Uganda border, namely the Dodoth ethnic community of Kaabong and the Turkana of Kenya, but later advanced towards the Jie of Kotido before spreading into central Karamoja (Matheniko of Moroto and Bokora of Napak). The largely disgruntled Local Defense Units security outfit were deployed along ethnic lines, which together with a demotivated strata of peace committees made mitigation measures clumsy, worsening the situation further.

These developments are coming at a time when Uganda is joining the rest of the world in the decade of action to achieve sustainable development goals, with the concept of leaving no one behind.

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Godfred Eyoku

Godfred Eyoku is a young journalist for Aica based in Karamoja sub with hands-on experience in news reporting, broadcast media and videography, with focus on climate issues in the region. He has a diploma in journalism and mass communication and he also works as a news editor, news anchor and presenter at Radio Akica FM in Moroto district. With his interest in journalism for social change, Godfred has co-founded SKYNET MEDIA; an upcoming youth led company aiming at training community reporters on basic journalism skills and also provide media related services such as research, documentary and feature stories.

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