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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Meeting Uganda's warriors
Karamonjong warriors of north east Uganda
The Karamojong want 100 cows in exchange for a gun
By Abraham Odeke in Karamoja, eastern Uganda

During my visit to the semi-arid region of Karamoja, I asked my guide to arrange a meeting with some of the Karamojong warriors in the villages surrounding Moroto town, in the east of Uganda.

The guide sent a message to Matheniko County and after three hours a reply arrived.

Our Yamaha motorbike rolled down the Matheniko countryside where armed warriors could be seen grazing their short-horned cattle

The cow is at the centre of the Karamojong value system, and cattle rustling is a way of life, particularly for men who need the animals for dowry.

The Karamojong have been armed for the past 20 years and use the guns in interclan and cross border cattle rustling raids.

The government early this year launched a high profile disarmament campaign saying it wanted 200,000 weapons handed in by the Karamojong.

"They have accepted to receive us, but they say some conditions would have to be fulfilled," my guide told me.

'Oil their hands'

He added: "One of the conditions is that we agree to 'oil their hands'. Meaning paying them some money."

I agreed.

Our Yamaha motorbike rolled down the Matheniko countryside where armed worriers could be seen grazing their short-horned cattle.

The cow is at the centre of the Karamojong value system, and cattle rustling is a way of life, particularly for men who need the animals for dowry.

Every warrior we saw possessed an AK-47 gun with two or three extra magazines resting on the sides of the guns.

The interview was arranged inside the guests' house, a spacious grass structure built to accommodate more than 50 people at a time.

Goat skinned

The main door to this house was a thick piece of cloth and its walls finished with small sticks.

We sat on goat skinned rugs beautifully spread on the floor.

Ugandan soldier
The army have still not been able to disarm the cattle rustlers

The senior among the three warriors who received us chanted: "Alakara Jik" (We are delighted to see you here).

Then he announced the conditions for holding the interview.

  • No taking photographs while inside this house.
  • No irrelevant questions allowed.
  • And not everything you see in this village and beyond should make news!

These conditions immediately forced me to recall all the interviewing techniques I learnt at the Uganda School of Journalism.

My first question to the warriors attracted prolonged laughter. I think it must have sounded silly!

I had wanted to find out how the Karamojong. warriors had remained healthy and strong despite the harsh climate in the region.

But it was actually the third question that set the ball rolling and I began to get some answers.

Tanzania soldiers

Where did their guns come from?

"We picked the first guns from Moroto army barracks in the late 1970s when the soldiers fled the barracks fearing the advancing Tanzanian army and the guerrillas of former President Milton Obote," came the reply.

But, the youngest warrior added: "Some of the guns are now coming from Southern Sudan, Kenya's Turkana area and Ethiopia."

"There are also some indisciplined government soldiers who sell us guns and bullets before deserting the army," he said.

Asked how they carry out their cattle raids, warriors said they usually make their incursions into neighbouring districts during the dry season.


"We first burn all the tall grass along the route we are to drive the stolen cattle through.

"Animals move faster on routes without thick bushes."

But warriors said they are ready to hand all their illegally acquired guns to the Uganda Government as proposed by President Museveni.

The govermnment had said the guns needed to be taken from the warriors because they had, among other things, migrated into neighbouring districts - displacing thousands of people and stealing cattle.

But some form of compensation should first be arranged.

As they explained: "Not all of the 100,000 guns in this region were got from the army barracks when Idi Amin was toppled."

" We bought many of our modern guns using our own cows.

"We wanted to protect ourselves because no government security agency has ever provided security for us and our cows."

But the Karamojong said if the government wanted their weapons, they should give 100 cows in exchange for every gun surrendered, then the disarmament exercise will be speeded up."

See also:

20 Nov 00 | Africa
Kidnapped by the Karamojong
03 Jul 00 | Africa
International cow crime crackdown
11 Aug 99 | Africa
Cattle raiders kill 140 in Uganda
26 Jul 00 | Africa
Ugandan cattle raid deaths
22 Jan 01 | Africa
Ridding the Karamojong of guns
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