Karamoja And Pastoralism: A Shifting Paradigm

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Karamoja has for long been synonymous with cattle and pastoralism that led to degrading violent armed conflict in the region. For long this has become both a stereotype and an unfortunate mark of identity.

From podium remarks of Dr Milton Obote to becoming anybody’s sing-song that “we shall never wait for Karamoja to develop.” It is the mindful; perhaps those that have obtained quality education (not the Nyanzi type) that can view this as a strategy that has for long been used to deprive the people of Karamoja of what every living poor soul likes to call the “National Cake.”

According to Hon Albert Lokoru , the Matheniko Member of Parliament, this time we are not far from chomping away that piece of cake, and we wait with utter patience. I for one can wait till the second coming.

Being a child of the NRM revolution (I pray I never die in it), I am compelled to appreciate the good that the revolution has done and discard with mighty disregard, the negativities. Has there ever been any government that has propelled karamoja? I learnt 8 years ago, even the field Marshal failed.

Indeed times are changing and will continue to change till we are long gone. When the NRM Government came up with the Disarmament programme, no one knew what it could yield. Those in Human Rights said it was violation of freedoms yet, they couldnot be holding such a big offices in the heart of Karamoja. I still have to write eulogies to congratulate the regime for indeed, “The end justifies the means.”

In my field of work, you happen to brush at the big offices. I had a conversation with the District Police Commander, George Obia, three weeks ago; such quick talk with resounding effect. The dumb fondness that struck me as he stated that, "the karimojong are not utilizing the relative security." He went ahead to emphasize that, "instead of settling to do Agriculture, many have resorted to sitting idle to wait till government intervenes in their hunger situation." It was a hard fact, but it never hit so hard than the reality. Certainly we may excuse ourselves  because we say change is a gradual process.

Friends (for let me call you that), Karamoja is moving through a time frame of change, I see great transformation. Soon, I only have faith.  Pastoralism may as well be one of those historical aspects except some of us will have the onus to say “that was in our days.”

I hardly see large herds of cattle manned by young boys who deserve an education. Barely can I remember the last time I heard of a traditional wedding that cost 100 cattle. Yes, what everyone loves to castigate, cattle rustling and oh! Y
you have to listen to Commissioner Aruk Richard Maruk bragging: "I am not blessed with pride, yet I conceal it in my heart." The region is still battling with petty cattle thieves; the “Nabilatuk resolution” is line to tackle such.

The locals are diversifying, many are shifting to agriculture and those in mineral rich areas like Rata and Kosiroi invest their energies well. I know a woman who pays fees for her two children in Tapac Primary School from the mining pennies. Even with the volatile climatic conditions, persistence is what defines a farmer in Karamoja.

The clear blue sky does not alter his hope that whatever he has sowed will flourish. I am not just saying that you had better come on a trip with me one day like the one I took to kosiroi on July 13. Infact, I am still composing a thank you note for Saferworld and Uganda Land Alliance (ULA).

Apart from Agriculture and mining, people have also seen the beauty of business. Karamoja is flourishing with small scale businesses; kiosks, bars, restaurants and shops. Such are features of places like Namalu, where individuals rely on basic initiatives to make a living. Although, they are the ones who seem to have swallowed one of the last bitter pills of cattle rustling, many are getting over it.

The essence of such traumatic lessons is that everyone adjusts to the new ways of living. Even when they curse that fateful night in 2008, they still work hard to make a better living.

With more government support, many stake holders in the region believe that karamoja will be propelled to greater heights. It is honourable to see tha government has not only invested but, also diversified the various developmental sectors in the region.
Many projects have been earmarked and instead of constructing more dams,  government has rather directed more funding to agriculture and business. The youth have been empowered through the office of the Prime Minister by dishing out business loans for the youth as startup capital. Atleast I have tried to appreciate the positive angle of the revolutionary regime.

Judge then my joy when I see that these people of Karamoja (what do you call them? Yes, warriors), are embracing education. Statistically, more than half of the families in Karamoja have sent their children to school unlike in the past where many got initiated into grazing and rustling. The mindset towards education has marginally improved.

The poor learning condition in Karamoja schools is one of the turn-off factors. If only the teaching personnel and motivation in the name of providing meals could be provided. It is not only an assumption, but I believe the turn up will highly increase.

I may not employ rhetory today but Karamoja most certainly is moving in the right direction. Couple the factors stated above with massive mobilization, Karamoja will surely surprise the impatient lot of “Will never wait for Karamoja to develop.”

Non-governmental organizations such as Irish Aid through their partner organizations like SaferWorld are already doing Community sensitization. Another much needed strategy in the long road ahead as the livelihood in Karamoja is changing.