Kenya-Uganda Diplomatic Tensions Over Armed Pastoralists.

Kenya-Uganda Diplomatic Tensions Over Armed Pastoralists.

The Uganda Security Forces, led by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, under what is termed ‘intelligence-led disarmament’ conducted a cordon and search operation at Turkana Kraals in Lokeriaut parish, Nadunget Sub-County, Moroto District.

The operation was hailed by many as the biggest singular recovery of illegal guns since 2019 with 31 guns and 751 rounds of ammunition recovered. 120 Karimojong and Turkana youth were rounded up and arrested however only 32 appeared before a military court martial in which they were found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in Prison.

Under Ugandan law any person found in illegal possession of military weapons, uniform, equipment or ammunition is subjected be tried under Military Court Martial. UPDF for its part states that the Turkana and Pokot are “subject to the ongoing disarmament operations in the Karamoja sub-region and National laws of the Republic of Uganda.”

This is not the first time as earlier this year the UPDF arrested and released 6 Turkana herdsmen who had entered the country with firearms after a High level delegation dispatched by H.E William Ruto and led by CS EAC Affairs Rebecca Maino travelled to Uganda for a meeting on cross border coordination.

The first meeting of its kind since 2019 in which the President’s Special Advisor for Defense and Security (SPADS) General Caleb Akandwanaho (AKA Gen. Salim Saleh) presided over the meeting and reported direct to H.E President Yoweri Museveni on what transpired. During this meeting it is believed issues of Armed Pastoralists from Kenya entering into Uganda and thus prolonging the disarmament operations was raised and CS Maino requested their release.

Turkana and Pokot (of Kenya) Have been known to fuel the conflict in Karamoja through supply of Ammunition, firearms and exchange of stolen livestock with raiding gangs. Karamoja Trumpet has also ascertained through confidential informants that on some occasions, some corrupt local leaders and some errant security officials (from Kenya and Uganda sides) liaise with raiders to provide them necessary tools and cover for their raiding activities.


For many years Turkana and some Pokot herdsmen migrate during the dry season into Karamoja, in search of pastures for their flocks. Some even have Ugandan and Kenyan IDs and vote in both elections. Before NRM Disarmament 1 (2001-2011) All Karimojong communities were armed and this gave the Turkana reason to travel heavily armed given that they have more access to acquire guns from Ethiopia and Sudan. From 2011 to 2019 there were fewer raiding incidences though the Turkana still moved into Uganda with guns.

Era of cooperation

Turkana County Government, in knowing that some of their populations were living in Uganda for most of the year would occasionally donate food, support Ugandan health enters and more to ensure their populations were catered for while in Uganda.

This culminated in the September 2019 Cross Border Peace and Development MoU signing by President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Yoweri Museveni in Moroto District. It was hoped that this MoU would bring much needed agreement and good will from both sides to develop the entire Ateker Cluster. EU, UNDP, UNICEF, WFP and others were lining up to support cross border peace and development, promising funding worth tens of millions of dollars.

COVID-19 and Election seasons

Sadly, the covid-19 pandemic, 2021 Uganda and 2022 Kenyan Elections prevented the implementation of this MoU as both Governments were focused on multiple issues. The War in Congo and Fight against the Al-Shabab militant group and other ISIS Affiliates (ISCAP) also

took centre stage around this time

Involvement of Turkana and Pokot Herdsmen in Cattle Rustling in Karamoja 2019 to date

Since 2019 Kenya and Uganda have been grappling with a resurgence in banditry, cattle rustling and general lawlessness. Key grassroots peace actors and intelligence officials have been assassinated across Ateker Cluster by criminal elements seeking to thwart peace efforts.

The most notable was Hon. Apollo Dan Loyomo (Former LCIII chairman Rupa s/c) who was shot by a rogue Local Defense Personnel on December 17th while attempting to promote peace and cooperation with the security forces.

Shortly after his death on December 30th 2019 at Lokitela Ka Ekuwam Peace Meeting attended by community leaders, elders, security personnel and raiders(teleconference) from Matheniko, Bokora and Jie and Turkana communities it was revealed that;

On 23rd of march 2019 after government withdrawing forces from Karamoja, Suspected Jie warriors attacked the Turkana of Kenya in the revenge of a raid that took place on 27th of march 2003, this is a raid where by Suspected Turkana raiders allegedly raided 7,000 heads of cattle from Jie. When Jie warriors tried to revenge, the UPDF disarmament 1(2001-2011) cordon and search took them by surprise in the process and they were not able to launch the revenge. This anger was not dealt with and some waited for the opportunity.

The suspected Jie warriors were successful in that raid. They took 74 heads of cattle, injured 2 boys and killed an old woman. They again attacked on 18th of May 2019 and took 146 heads of cattle, 3 of them were killed, they injured 1 boy. They again launched on 30th of August crossed the Kobebe area and were sighted at the border by the Turkana women who were collecting firewood. These women took the report home and the Turkana responded and repelled them.

A week later on 6th of September 2019, suspected Turkana raided Jie and took 400 heads of cattle. They passed Kobebe Area on their way to Kenya, Jie elders claimed that “Enapito Ikoku alo Kaku (the Matheniko are carrying the child on the back)” This statement meant that the Jie were asking why the Matheniko did not stop Turkana raiders who passed on their land.

They thusly begun raiding Matheniko and Turkana herds. Lack of response from security forces who were thinly deployed in Karamoja due to demands from other UPDF areas of Operation such as Congo and Somalia meant that raiding groups were emboldened to raid further knowing that there would be little response.

In 2019 Some Turkana elements and their Karimojong collaborators, in an effort to bolster their position took over Kobebe common grazing area and the Nakaabat Gold mining site, pushed the UPDF out and hundreds if not thousands of Karimojong who depended on Kobebe Water.

Other communities begun the cycle of revenge and counter raiding. UPDF, RDCs and security personnel were also accused by communities of diverting recovered cows and forcefully impounding animals of innocent people which then disappeared in custody.

The Situation Spirals out of control 2019-2021

The raid of 28th December 2019 is a prime example of failure in recovery of livestock in which suspected Bokora raided 78 cows from Moroto and drove them as if they were moving to Kotido and later cornered and turned back to Napak according to footprints is a prime example.

In mid-February 2020 a teleconference between Napak and Moroto District leadership and peace teams was held in which it was shared that the footprints show that the cows went to Napak and not Kotido.

On April 9th 2020 a meeting took place in Lopeii in which the Matheniko community asked the Bokora elders present to return their cows. Two days later suspected Tepeth and Matheniko raiding elements combined and attacked Bokora. In the process killing a soldier and his daughter, taking his gun and about 37 cows.

UPDF, acting on intelligence, mounted an ambush and engaged raiders along their return and recovered 31 of the 37 cows. 6 were taken by a splinter group deep into Mount Moroto and these guns were never recovered. In the firefight, 1 raider was wounded and captured at Moroto Hospital (RRH) and after interrogation he helped security reconstruct the scene and expose his co-conspirators who were later arrested.

UPDF in an attempt to quash the situation chose the slightly extreme tactic of impounding 400 cows from Tapac (Tepeth, Moroto), Impounded over 380 cows from Nadunget (Matheniko, Moroto) and impounded over 500 cows from Rupa (Matheniko, Moroto) and drove them to the brigade headquarters in Matany (Bokora, Napak) demanding the communities return the gun which was taken from the dead soldier.

Of the 400 cows taken from Tepeth only 84 returned, Nadunget received only 62 of the 380, and Rupa only 182 of the over 500. The remaining over 952 cows went missing while in UPDF custody.

This policy of communal punishment and selective justice led to more feeling disgruntled and joining raiding. Such as the now-infamous Achuchu. At the same time, there was raiding and counter-raiding on the Jie-Dodoth Axis and Pian-Pokot, Pian-Bokora axis.

It should also be noted that, the 20-year-old disarmament program did not disarm the hardcore criminals in Karamoja. As the rest of the community handed over their guns to the government. The hardcore criminals, hid their guns which have now been brought out and used. When disarmament became hot these gangs went in hibernation mode.

Around the same time Notorious Pokot raiding gangs (Kenyan and Ugandan) who had gone in hibernation mode after disarmament 1 and were part of cross-border trade, after a series of raids from suspected Pian into Pokot began organizing massive raids deep into Pian and Bokora. In December 2019 20 suspected Pokot raiders from Alale sub-sector in Kenya raided Kotido (the first time Pokot had moved over 150 kilometers to raid Kotido).

When the raids were successful and they were pursued by the UPDF they would flee to Kenya, regroup, and rearm. There were some successful UPDF operations such as the recovery of over 200 cows at Kamusalaba using the Helicopter Gunship in 2021.

The role of leaders, accomplices, business community and security forces in cattle raiding

Cattle Rustling in Karamoja has become commercialized with criminal groups operating in a manner similar to cartels, using bribery, intimidation, extortion and in some cases targeted assassination to achieve their objectives. Current criminals’ gangs in Karamoja rely on disunity of peace actors and compromising leaders, security officials, community members and business community. Below is a diagram detailing the role of each actor in this process.

Uganda Government Geologists Killed (March 2022)

In December 2019 the Government of Uganda through the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development contracted a South African company, Xcalibur Airborne Geo physics, to conduct a mineral survey and mapping exercise in a northeast region that may hold substantial deposits of gold, copper and other lucrative minerals. The contract was around 20 million Euros and was shrouded in mystery.

In March 2022 Ugandan Government Geologists and their security team on a field visit to Lotisan sub-county, near Kobebe dam, encountered Armed Turkana, who mistaking them and their machines for a Military reconnaissance team engaged them. There are conflicting reports on who fired first with some Turkana Elders claiming UPDF fired first however this does not change the fact that the 3 unarmed Geologists and 2 UPDF soldiers were outgunned by a larger force believed to be a full squad of Turkana (4-12 warriors). The geologists were stripped naked, robbed and some were partly set on fire. A common tactic in North Rift with 3 such events happening in bandit-prone counties in the last 4 years.

The UPDF and Special Forces response was swift, effective, and punitive, they quickly launched a counter-offensive as part of phase two of Operation Usalama Kwa Wote to retake Kobebe, push the Turkana out of their positions in Kobebe and Nakaabat. These operations sometimes involved Aerial Bombardment of villages (believed to be hideouts of criminals), summary executions, torture, and burning suspected raiders on film. Stories of young Turkana girls being hacked to death and elders being summarily executed became widespread. There was significant collateral damage on both the Turkana and Karimojong communities with civilians being caught up in the crosshairs.

The UPDF demanding that the Turkana return the UPDF machine gun that was stolen from the dead soldier or risk being evicted from Uganda and never allowed to access their much-needed grazing and watering corridors for their large herds.

This gun was returned on 7th April 2022 by Turkana County Government at a ceremony in which CLF General Muhoozi (then commander of Land Forces) presided over. Late in the year the UPDF begun allowing the Turkana and other Karimojong communities to return to Kobebe and continue normal Grazing and life continued.

Despite this the Turkana herdsmen have persistently refused to abandon their firearms and come into Uganda unarmed. They and their elected leaders claim whenever they come unarmed their cows are stolen and there is little to no follow up by Ugandan security forces. They also site multiple unfair cases in which innocent Turkana have been unjustly treated because of a few criminal elements within them.

The UPDF and Ugandan Intelligence Services on their part remain Adamant that some criminal elements in Pokot and Turkana capitalise on insecurity in Karamoja by selling ammunition, firearms and in some instance collude with rival factions in Karamoja to undermine the disarmament process.

Some criminal elements from Karamoja cross the border and hide when they get wind that security is looking for them and vice versa.

Possible ways forward

1. The government of Kenya and Turkana + Pokot County Governments could construct large mega dams within Kenya in order to tame their reliance on migration in the dry season.

2. The Government of Uganda and Kenya through liaison officers and joint coordination share intelligence and coordinate deployments to resolve issues of suspected bandits fleeing into the neighbouring country

3. The Security forces of both Kenya and Uganda rely on Kraal intelligence and Civil Military Cooperation with ordinary people.

4. The Lotikipi Basin Bulk water harvesting, Desalination, and Transfer Project commence such that large tracts of land can be irrigated.

5. The Governments of Uganda and Kenya develop long-term livelihood strategies such as economic empowerment and education for all.

Source; Karamoja Trumpet

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