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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 19:21 GMT
Guns and drought in Karamoja
By Will Ross
BBC, Karamoja, north-east Uganda

There are two immediate signs that all is not well in Karamoja.

The landscape is dry, dusty and cropless after a lack of rain last year. And all vehicles travel on the dirt roads at hair-raising speeds.

Dodoth herder
Without guns herders feel powerless to stop thefts
I caught a ride in a Land Rover - but with an Italian priest behind the wheel it soon took on the characteristics of a Ferrari.

In Karamoja speed is a major tactic to avoid being shot.

These days the word "akoro" is heard everywhere - "akoro" means hunger.

Near the town of Kabong in Kotido district a young Dodoth herder, Lotuk Longole, showed me the skull and bones of a young woman in her 20s.

Dressed in a bright red sheet known as an asuka, he told me the woman had collapsed and died through hunger after returning from town in search of food.

Other human remains litter the plain.

In much of Karamoja if someone dies outside the home they are simply left there - it is believed that by carrying the corpse home you are bringing further problems on the family.

Kabong is built among giant rocky outcrops and, gathered under a tree near the market, 50 elderly women pleaded with the chair of the town council for assistance.

They held out the food they have been forced to survive on; leaves, berries and the residue from the locally made sorghum beer.

Even collecting the leaves is no easy task.


"We fear to travel far from home. But the few who risk to go in search of food have remained there - they are killed by enemies," a Dodoth elder, Koriang, who lives in Kamacharkol, told me.

In Kabong hospital I met three young men who were being treated for gunshot wounds.

One young Dodoth boy had been out in search of food when he was shot by Jie warriors.

Throughout the Dodoth areas, the Jie warriors are blamed for the insecurity.

And not surprisingly where the Jie live the Dodoth and other groups are blamed.

The situation is further confused as raids occur across the Sudanese and Kenyan borders.


In December 2001 the Ugandan Government started to disarm the Karamojong.

It estimated there would be 40,000 guns to collect.

Many doubted the exercise had any hope of succeeding as cattle are so valuable to the people and the gun is seen as the only way of protecting "the bank".

So far the Ugandan army claims over 10,000 guns have been collected but the process seems to have hit a brick wall with most of the Ugandan army troops relocated to the north to fight a rebel incursion there.

Human remains
The combination of hunger and ethnic violence is lethal

In fact members of local peace initiatives told me that serious restocking of weapons has been taking place and it is now possible the gun problem is worse than ever.

One Jie warrior in the village of Lokitelakebu claimed he handed over his gun last year but since then believes he has paid the price.

He says Dodoth warriors raided all of his 340 head of cattle and there was nothing he could do about it.

"With no gun to defend ourselves we are now toothless," he commented before adding, "If I had cattle I'd definitely buy another gun."

Another warrior, carrying his tiny wooden stool or ekicolong, accused the Ugandan army of selling the guns back to the population and said the soldiers are taking advantage of defenceless warriors by stealing cattle for themselves.


All the insecurity made my journey from Kabong to Kotido a nervous one.

The truck in which I travelled was packed with goats and a beautiful white bull - sold by a Dodoth herder at a give-away price to raise money for his hungry family.

Famine and insecurity are feeding off each other

A truck full of animals is a prime target for attack - as one trader put it, "many warriors don't like their cattle leaving the area even if they've been paid for".

I naively suggested we hide the bull under a blanket.

But with three soldiers in the back of the truck I was assured the guns would keep us safe.

I was lucky and made it to Kotido but I later learnt that 100 kilometres down the road the same truck was ambushed.

One trader was shot dead and several others were hospitalised.


In Karamoja both famine and insecurity are feeding off each other and both issues need to be addressed urgently.

The only signs of optimism I witnessed in Karamoja were the efforts made by women's groups to pacify the region.

Several groups have been instrumental in the disarmament process and have used drama and music to put over the point that the gun is causing misery in Karamoja.

If you want to get a gun off a warrior it seems you need a woman.

As Christine Tubbo, an MP in Kotido District put it, "Men fear curses from women and in Karamoja sons trust their mothers more than their fathers."



Kidnapped by the Karamojong
20 Nov 00 |  Africa

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