Turkana Leave Karamoja to Avoid Disarmament

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 27 November 2001

Turkana pastoralists who have been living and grazing their cattle in eastern and northeastern Uganda for almost 30 years have returned to Kenya to avoid handing their guns over to the Ugandan government, according to local news reports.

The Turkana have driven some 60,000 head of cattle to the Kenyan side of the border for fear of being caught up with a Ugandan government programme to recover thousands of illegal firearms from Karamojong warriors, the government-owned New Vision newspaper reported on Monday.

We have received information to the effect that the Turkana have all moved out of Matheniko County, [Moroto District, Karamoja sub-region], the paper quoted Assistant Resident District Commissioner for Moroto, Andrew Keem, as saying on Saturday.

The Turkana had been grazing their cattle inside Uganda since 1973, when a peace pact was signed with the local Matheniko people after a series of armed cattle raids by the Turkana, according to the New Vision.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last week announced that, as part of a disarmament programme in Karamoja sub-region, Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) personnel would be deployed along the borders with Kenya and Sudan. That deployment would protect the Karamojong from attack by fellow pastoralists tribes from Kenya and Sudan, and enable them to surrender their arms in safety to the Ugandan authorities, he said.

The Karamojong are due to begin handing in their weapons on 2 December. After an initial phase of voluntary surrender of weapons, anyone found in possession of illegal guns would be arrested, the BBC quoted Museveni as saying on 19 November.

Museveni urged the Karamojong to surrender their guns peacefully, and said those that did so would be recorded as responsible citizens by being given priority in government's development programmes.

The Ugandan government initially gave weapons to small groups of home guards within the Karamoja sub-region to enable the population defend itself against raids by the Turkana and Pokot pastoralist groups from northwestern Kenya.

A peace meeting between Pokot and Karamojong leaders in eastern Uganda two weeks ago was called off when a separate group of Pokots launched an armed cattle raid in the area, the BBC reported. Some 40 Pokot youth members of the peace delegation were subsequently detained by Ugandan security forces at the Moroto army barracks, and told they would not be released until cattle stolen by the raiders was returned, it said.

The Karamojong themselves have been widely criticised for carrying out armed raids against neighbouring districts in eastern Uganda, most notably in Katakwi District where some 80,000 people have been forced into—and to remain in—displacement camps as a result of the raids.

In northwestern Kenya, the Turkana and Pokot also have a long history of conflict over cattle ownership and grazing lands.

Today, the common border between Turkana and West Pokot Districts is a conflict zone, the Nairobi-based African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) reported in October.

ACTS cited a 1999 case in which some 1000 young Pokot men attacked the Kalemnog'orok market in Turkana District, leaving dozens dead, including 28 women and 25 children under the age of twelve.

Violent, surprise attacks by gangs of several hundred men armed with small arms were common, it said.

Although cattle-raiding and conflict over scarce grazing lands between different pastoralist groups in Kenya and Uganda has occurred for hundreds of years, the recent increase in the availability of small arms had exacerbated the effects of this conflict, ACTS stated in a report entitled Armaments, Environments: Small Arms and the Control of Natural Resources.

The ready availability of affordable small arms and light weapons makes violent struggle an appealing recourse to redress scarcities of natural resources, it added.

Research conducted in West Pokot District, western Kenya, showed that traditional grazing areas that were now insecure due to armed livestock theft were not being used, causing more secure pasture to be badly overgrazed, according to ACTS.

The use of violence to gain greater access to land and cattle had, therefore, caused the deterioration of the same resources the attacks had intended to secure.

Whatever the motives underlying the use of small arms and light weapons, their proliferation and use creates a climate of insecurity and impunity in which it is increasingly difficult for many populations to sustain their livelihoods, the report added.