The Karamoja Question: Are we planning to fail or failing to plan? An analysis of government and CSO interventions from March 2021 to date.


On June 15th 2023 the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), under the auspices of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), published a worrying report detailing the status of food insecurity in Karamoja sub-region.

The report noted with alarm the fact that at least 582,000 people in Karamoja are in a food crisis and over 1.18 million of Karamoja’s 1.4 million people are food stressed or worse. This must have been grim reading for food security planners within these critical aid organizations as well as within the Office of the Prime Minister.

Karamoja in the past 20 years has received over 500 Million US dollars in aid donations, donor-funded programs, relief food and government initiatives that seem to have yielded mixed results.

As Karamoja develops on the road to Uganda’s Vision 2040 and the discovery of large mineral deposits in the region are exploited, the ordinary Karimojong, who for lack of employable skills, low literacy levels and limited access to credit find themselves unable to afford life or fit into the modern Karamoja.

Coupled with a resurgence in Insecurity over the last 5 years, cycles of crop failures, unreliable rains and little access to inputs, this is a dangerous cocktail of trouble.  While it is true that malnutrition, infant mortality and stunting has been on the decline in the past 20 years due to successes in government and Donor interventions the situation is far from fair. Maternal Mortality remains unnecessarily high, the number of children that reach 5 years of age is also staggeringly low.


For a long time the government approach to Karamoja Food security was that of emergency response to famine with little attention to mechanization of agriculture, large scale crop production or irrigation. Despite the government investing hundreds of billions of shillings in pro-growth and Marshall plan like activities spanning post conflict regions across northern Uganda such as PRDP (Peace Reconstruction and Development Plan), NUSAF (Northern Uganda Social Action Fund), DINU (Development Initiative for Northern Uganda), Operation Wealth Creation, Youth Livelihood Fund, Women’s Entreprenuership Fund, there has been little input from ordinary Karimojong in centralized planning and a genuine lack of integration of Karamoja into national development planning and frameworks.

Given the fact that most parts of Karamoja survive on 1 season of rain per year there is also a sad occurrence of inputs arriving late making planting difficult. This is further compounded by the lack of dissemination of accurate meteorological data to the populace.  Government officials budget for billions of shillings in seconds with little regard for tax payers value for money.

Corruption and theft of funds is also an aggravating factor which we shall touch on later in this report.

NGOs and donors

Karamoja has a multitude of NGOs, CSOs, Faith Based Organisations, Aid Agencies and UN bodies. While many do vitally needed work such as scholarships for students, water supply, support to healthcare systems, livelihoods and food relief, there is a portion of NGOs that are not genuinely interested in helping Karamoja or transforming it for the better.

Majority of Non-government activities for the past ten years in Karamoja have revolved around sensitization of communities, research and capacity building of civil servants. In Karamoja today there is a thriving workshop economy with hotels reaping big from lunches, teas, venue hire and NGO staff benefiting from bloated per-diems we call this phenomenon ‘Workshopism’. Sadly the NGO officials travel in shockabsorbed, air conditioned vehicles and tour the manyattas for activities then return to their urban enclaves where they patronize drinking and eating establishments.

Marching parades, printed t-shirts and flyer printing and endless awareness campaigns are favourites, while construction of schools, dormitories, healthcenters, livelihoods support direct to beneficiaries is less favoured.

In order to be fair to NGOs sadly this is partly due to donor agencies having their own 5 year country plans and frameworks when launching calls for proposals which make it difficult for long term impact projects to be supported. Some of those duties are also a preserve of the government and in some cases are budgeted for however there is corruption.

NGOs and the Government have created a dependency syndrome in Karamoja over the last 40 years. Instead of being proactive and combatting problems before they are unmanageable, policy planning and donor interventions have been reactionary and focused on dependency and project continuity.

In some cases food relief has been found unfit for human consumption and this has led to deaths or hospitalisation. An example of this is the Napak district food poisoning fiasco of 2019. In some areas dependency is so high that mothers force their children to eat laundry detergent to deliberately keep them unhealthy that the family can permanently benefit from food relief.

Source; Karamoja Trumpet

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