By Ronald Musoke
Sustaining pastoralism seen as the only sure way to steady development in the region
If the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) meeting of ministers held on Oct.14 in Kampala is anything to go by, efforts to develop the Karamoja region are reaping positive results.
Speaking at the meeting, Eng. Mahboub Maalim, the body’s executive secretary, said Karamoja region is ahead of its counterparts in the region and provides valuable lessons for the other parts of the Karamoja cluster – comprising cross border areas of four IGAD member countries namely; Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. These are areas located at the peripheries of the four states and they all share a history of under-development, drought proneness, marginalization and insecurity.
Of all these areas, however, Karamoja’s recent transformation, though still humble, has been largely due to an intense campaign spearheaded by the government through the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs headed by Janet Museveni.
On the security front, a steady but sometimes ruthless disarmament drive by Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), which saw many Karimojong warriors hand over thousands of assault rifle, laid the groundwork for ambitious development initiatives.
The disarmament has reaped dividends of relative peace and security, and where there is peace and security there is development as exemplified by several projects now underway in the region. These include the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), the Karamoja Livelihoods Programme (KALIP); and the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF).
Besides the mobile school system being started a few years back, Karamoja’s health system despite numerous challenges, is said to be gradually improving with many health centres being built and equipped with enabling medical equipment and supplies. They are also complete with staff quarters to boost the staffing levels. Moroto Hospital has been upgraded to a regional referral hospital.
Karamoja was also recently connected onto the national grid and for the first time since independence. Moroto and Abim Districts now have electricity, with Nakapiripirit scheduled to follow. In addition, although previously the entire sub-region boasted of a tarmac stretch of about 2.5 km, now that too is about to change, with the construction of the Moroto-Nakapiripirit-Muyembe road which is already underway.
Despite the erratic rainfall pattern, the ministry has tried to open land and provide seeds and tools in Karamoja to boost the region’s food sustainability efforts. It has initiated a tractor hire scheme, while there are also hand tractors and ox-ploughs for hire. As a result, says Janet Museveni, more than 70% of the Karimojong can now fend for themselves.
Yet, despite those achievements the region still lags behind the rest of Uganda as far as development indicators are concerned, a clear indication that it is too early for Janet and her team to rest on their laurels.
Karamoja’s life expectancy is the lowest in Uganda. It also has the highest maternal mortality rates in the country (750:100,000 live births) while literacy rates stand at 11%. The population living in poverty is a whopping 82% against the national average of 31%. These are all handicaps that make the people of Karamoja very vulnerable.
In her remarks during the meeting, Janet Museveni advised that cattle raiding will only be eradicated when the governments of the four countries where the Karimojong exist, provide basic services, schools and other developmental projects. Her point could not be clearer given what had happened the previous night.
As the IGAD ministers met to discuss and forge a practical and coordinated way forward on how to advance peace, security and development in the region, the previous night had carried tragic news—12 Karimojong rustlers had been gunned down as they attempted to steal cows belonging to fellow pastoralists across the border in Kenya.
Her audience included; ministers and other senior government officials from member countries like Ole Lenku, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Benjamin Marial, South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Omod Obang Olom, Ethiopia’s State Minister of Federal Affairs.
The rustling Janet Museveni was talking about, while an old tradition, might be an attempt to replenish the stocks of cows that have been deteriorating badly in the region for various reasons especially rustling from rival tribes from across the border. The Karimojong have claimed that disarmament left them exposed to attacks by their colleagues in Kenya, who are still armed—the main threat in the region.
The other factor is drought. While previous seasons had buoyed the Karimojong’s confidence in crop growing, a scotching sun early this year withered the seeds that were still germinating. Because of this, experts and leaders in Karamoja insist that the First Lady should not completely shut the door on pastoralism—something her team has been very keen on doing.
“Livestock rearing has been tested as the long-term and cultural means of livelihood that can stand these climate conditions,” Simon Peter Aleper, the MP for Moroto Municipality told The Independent, “The Karimojong have for a long time sustained their lives on animals that is why we are saying that while crops are good for food, crop growing should be secondary.”
Aleper said with the return of security in the region, the government now needs to boost livestock by restocking since insecurity had had a bad toll on animals depleting them. He added that it was a good move that the government had set a side Shs. 5 billion for this purpose but added that more is needed.
“We need to see more in construction of dams so the animals can access water and also health care; and then on the front of agriculture, we need more oxen and ox-ploughs because tractors are not good for the region,” Aleper said.
If the government can do these and also separate the crop and livestock departments, Aleper believes, the two will co-exist well and livestock, which is the backbone of the region will lead to transformation.
Aleper is not the only one vouching for pastoralism. David Pulkol, the former Matheniko MP and also a former minister for Karamoja, also said that the policy of promoting crop farming
without putting enough effort into livestock was unsustainable because livestock was always the main source of the region’s livelihood.
The two natives of the region say that since the Karimojong are good at animal rearing, they should be helped to leverage that competitive advantage. Many would say it does make sense. Despite the proneness to disasters, the small population – just only 3% of Uganda’s population – still commands ownership of 20% of the nation’s cattle, 16% of its goats, nearly 50% of sheep, over 90% of the donkeys and all camels. These are findings of the 2009 estimates from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), which adds that 80% of Karimojong households own livestock in the region.
Apart from the expertise engrained in the Karimonjong’s culture, the region is suitable for livestock, experts in the region argue. Interventionists in this region including Mrs Museveni, have in the past attempted to ignore and gloss over this cold fact.
While relief agencies like Oxfam, have argued that pastoralism is the people’s way of life that needs to be supported if the residents are to develop, Janet and her team have tended to prefer crop production, which the people have to learn from zero.
But activists quashed this argument arguing that despite tonnes of money pumped into crop production, the un-conducive climate has frustrated these ventures and Karamoja remains far from a food basket that she pledged to make it.
Although she and her team seem to be slowly adjusting to this reality, issues linger on.
Critics say policies of sedentarisation (transition from nomadic lifestyle to a society, which remains in one place permanently, are still hampering Karimojong from realizing their pastoral potential.
Part of this sedentary lifestyle occurred when the army turned grazing lands such as those at Apeitolim and Nakaperimor into settlement areas for crop growing in 2010.
This, critics say, hampered the mobility of pastoralists yet they survive by moving their animals from one place to another. The mobility of pastoralists has been identified scientifically as a crucial instrument of adaptation to climate change.
A 2011 report, ‘Tenure in Mystery: the Status of Land under Wildlife, Forestry and Mining Concessions in Karamoja Region,’ captured more of this.
The report notes that although in 2002 Parliament rescinded a 1960 policy that saw 94% of Karamoja allocated to wildlife conservation, and unlocked more than 50% of the land to be used by locals, to-date, the status quo remains.
“More than a decade later…” the report notes, “People find their access to land is blocked and feel powerless against suspected land grabbers.”
Apart from this, youths from Karamoja sub-region early this year urged the government to draft a pastoral policy to guide development in the region.
The youths, in a report sanctioned by the Uganda Parliamentary Youth Forum and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), noted that whereas crop production can apply in Karamoja, nomadic and pastoral ways of life are more adaptive in the region yet the government is not paying attention to it.
Going forward, the Karamoja cluster ministers will meet annually to monitor the progress of the journey to transform these regions.
But experts and Karamoja leaders insist that these meetings should pay more attention to pastoralism as it is the region’s livelihood and most sure way to transform this land which seems to have been marginalized for generations.