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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 07:59 GMT
Surviving Uganda's cattle wars
By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Karamoja

Angan Lotule is struggling to survive in Karamoja, Uganda's forgotten conflict zone.

Drought and insecurity make survival hard for Angan's family

She and her seven children live in the most marginalised part of the country, battling drought and conflict.

While the peace talks between the Ugandan government and the northern Lord's Resistance Army rebels make international headlines, little is known about this area of north-eastern Uganda.

Angan, who does not know how old she is - but she thinks her oldest child is 10, grows sorghum and cowpeas to feed her family. She also burns charcoal and sells it.

But drought has meant there is no harvest this year.

As for the charcoal, it is a hard business to sustain amid the insecurity of Karamoja.

Clan raids

Cattle-rustling is a way of life in a region where the cow is at the centre of the value system.

Many areas best for agriculture and grazing are just inaccessible to people because of the conflict
WFP's James Feeney

Traditionally young men need cattle to pay dowries for their wives. So they often raid the cattle of a neighbouring clan.

But where this was once carried out with spears, now Karamoja is awash with rifles, which are much more efficient weapons.

Angan, who lives in the village of Lorengedwat, says sometimes it is too dangerous to collect firewood to make charcoal, because if you meet the cattle raiders, they will kill you.

So her children go a day or two without food.

"It makes it difficult to bring food in and out of the region. Even access to local markets is difficult," says James Feeney, head of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), in Karamoja.

"Many of the areas which are best for agriculture and for grazing animals are just inaccessible to people because of the conflict."

Thousands of weapons

The Ugandan army began its most recent programme to disarm Karamojong warriors in May 2006.

People in Karamoja unload food sacks from the UN
Many people are depending on food aid this year

They estimated that more than 30,000 weapons were in the hands of cattle raiders across the region.

But, if anything, their attempts to remove the guns have led to an escalation in violence.

More than 20 people were killed in October 2006, among them at least 16 soldiers, in a gun battle with Karamojong warriors, and vehicle ambushes are common on the roads.

The WFP has begun distributing emergency food aid to half a million people in Karamoja to see them through the drought.

But the conflict continues in what is Uganda's poorest region.

Less than 20% of children in Karamoja are in school, compared to a national average of more than 80%.

"It's a forgotten region," says Mr Feeney. "And even though the government has tried to invest in schools here, parents need their children to help at home and with farming."

It is difficult to see an end to the conflict in this area: cattle-rustling is part of Karamoja's rich traditions.

Analysts also say that young Karamojong men have few alternatives and few opportunities that might distract them or take them away from a life of cattle-rustling.


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