Save for a recent event, the last time there was a mass burial in Karamoja was in 1972, when the government of President Idi Amin killed protesters against his culture policies in present Napak district. These traumatic experiences were relived three weeks ago, when the district local government of Kaabong mobilized its earth moving equipment to bury dozens of young people killed in an attempted raid in Lolelia, Kaabong district.
At this event, it is reported that 34 young people were killed, however, security sources have not confirmed the exact number of deaths, or the firearms recovered. In Kotido, home to those cattle rustlers, whole sub counties are mourning their sons in the quiet of their abodes, fearing reprisal and public shame because of the illegality of their children’s actions.
It’s been three full years since violence returned to Karamoja, a place that enjoyed Uganda’s most peaceful status just the decade before. Our last count of the dead, before we got traumatized and gave up counting was 3000, around July 2022. If the decrease in violence and death is any indication that the situation in Karamoja has improved, the region has seen a sharp increase in violent incidents over the past month.
In just a couple weeks, at least 10 have been killed in Moroto and Napak alone; another 10 have been killed under mysterious circumstances in Nakapiripirit, in the Pian-Upe grazing corridor. Youths were shot while they were making their herding sticks (ngibelae) at a fireplace. Harrowing video footage makes rounds on social media of four killed as they slept in a kraal in Moroto. There is both mystery and controversy over lost and unrecovered bodies. Arson and machete attacks over grazing grounds have happened at grazing grounds.
In the shoot-first-ask-questions-later response of our government and its military & security architecture, a chaotic disarmament has been in place since July 2021. Despite running, there has been little progress. The military’s strategy, if there’s one, has been compounded by problems elsewhere. Its ability to protect people and property has been largely a failure, its cooperation with local leaders is at an all-time low. Mistrust between the military and local leaders continues to hamper operations and counter accusations of complicity are rife at all levels.
Close to 200 billion shillings has been devoted to dealing with the conflict in Karamoja in 2022, most of this going to the military. While military sources say a chunk of these monies have not been released by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defense, the little change in operations on the ground have been too little, with a faltering effect.
Outside of the military, talk is rife of misappropriation of the OPM’s Shs39 billion released for the purpose of tackling insecurity.
In the three years since, the stakes have never been higher. An increasingly worrying situation, compounded by the most worrying pasture crisis in the region – which is affecting the availability of forage in Karamoja is set to climax by March 2023. An imminent food security crisis, worse than that of 2022, will make this experience even harder.
With critical Ugandan publics and government increasingly apathetic to the crises in Karamoja, this is a reminder that the precipice on which Karamoja now stands involves all of Uganda as well – its security, sovereignty, economy, and politics to mention but a few.
The costs of this deterioration are piling up and can only get more unbearable in the national scheme of things.
At this den of disasters called Karamoja, we find ourselves on the edge again. The Presidency, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Defense and Karamoja’s elected leaders must urgently convene to have a frank conversation about security problems in Karamoja. Indispensable to these efforts must be a strategic and sustained dialogue within and amongst conflicting groups.
Managing the conflict in Karamoja is clearly cheaper than letting the conflict run wild. The monies invested so far in military operations; food crisis response go beyond hundreds of billions of shillings. For events ignored at the onset, the cost-benefit of both inaction and indecisiveness will cause unbearable costs to the communities in Karamoja and the rest of the country. This real cost is in both blood, money and property.
There continues to exist a moral, political and economic imperative to act now. Bring all the efforts from 2022, take the situation more seriously and help us prevent a crisis in 2023 and beyond.
Source; Daily Monitor