Time stands still in the mountains where the Ik have made their home. Located in the Karamoja sub-region, a remote region in Northern Uganda, access to the Ik settlement is not a simple task.
For an outsider driving hours under the burning sun and dirt-roads, destroyed during the rainy season, might feel like a tough endeavor; but those harsh conditions are nothing compared to what the Ik have to endure on an every-day basis.
Located in between historically rival tribes such as the Dodoth in Uganda, the Turkana in Kenya and the Toposa in South-Sudan, the Ik community has abandoned livestock as a source of sustenance due to the inherent dangers raising cattle has in this area. Instead they have moved to an economy based on agriculture. However, peace for the Ik is not an option yet, as they find themselves caught in the middle of a cycle of violence of cattle raiding, human rights abuses and revenge-attacks between the neighboring tribes.
Cattle-raiding in Karamoja
The Karamoja region in Northern Uganda is home to over five million animal heads, according to the last available data by the Ugandan Bureau of statistics, which accounts to roughly 19-percent of the national livestock population.
In a Karamoja market, cattle can be sold for anywhere between 350,000 and 500,000 UGX (approximately USD 100 – 150). Therefore, cattle play a key role in the economy of the region.
Cattle raiding and theft has marked the relationship between the different tribes in the area for generations. However, a recent report by MercyCorps denotes that raids have become increasingly violent due to the proliferation of small arms and the erosion of traditional power structures.
Apo James, a youth leader in Kaaboong, one of the districts of the Karamoja region, says the elders play a big role in guiding and encouraging the young members of the community to take part in the raid.
“You find an elder waking up one morning or a witch doctor waking up one morning. You know what? I had a vision, I’ve dreamt of hope. In this direction they are this kind of livestock, this numbers. And I’ve also seen loopholes that you can easily take advantage of (…) So they give you that enticement,” James said.
But the actual raiding might not be as simple as the elder’s vision foresaw. James explained that many times friends are left behind injured or hurt.
Even though the amount of guns owned by Ugandan tribes has consistently decreased since the highly questioned disarmament program implemented by the Ugandan government, neighboring countries have not been able to effectively control the number of small guns owned by tribe members.
A path towards peace
Among the perceived causes of cattle raiding, according to MercyCorps, are hunger and the lack of livelihood skills and opportunities. Even though every community is aware of the dangers that cattle raiding pose for, not only those who participate in it, but the community as a whole due to revenge attacks, sometimes, is the only option to survive.
Any attempt of peace for Karamoja would require a comprehensive and complex approach. Stopping the proliferation of small arms in the area is just the first step. Economic development and opportunities for the people living in this isolated region are yet to come. It is not enough to stop the raids from happening. Development and peace building projects need to work on the causes of cattle raiding.
Center for Conflict Resolution, a non-profit organization focused on peace building in Uganda, the Great Lakes region and Horn of Africa, in partnership with DADO (Dodoth Agro-Pastoralist Development Organization,) is currently implementing a comprehensive “Cross-border conflict transformation program,” that includes cross-border community dialogue sessions, peace building skills training, facilitation of reconciliation initiatives among rivaling communities, skill training in entrepreneurship, mentoring and climate-change adaptation, youth-led outreach campaigns, training of cross-border conflict response networks and monitoring.
It is yet to see the impact this program has had in the Karamoja region. But projects like this are a sign of hope in a region forgotten by the world, and most importantly forgotten by the own Ugandan Government for so long. That is still recorded as the poorest in the country.