Reconciliation in Karamoja
Women as agents for peace
For years women have suffered from the warrior culture of cattle rustling of the Karamojong. Now women are mobilized to bring peace.
Rose Nakut was just a young girl when she was forced to marry, just like most other girls in Karamoja. But shortly after the marriage, her husband was killed in a cattle raid. The same happened to Rose’s next three husbands. Her fifth husband was also killed, not while on a cattle raid, but by raiders when he was on a peaceful hunt.
Now Rose is with her sixth husband. He is still alive, and his chances of staying alive have improved dramatically as a fragile peace has now come to Karamoja as a result of the government’s commitment to disarmament and the concerted peace programmes being implemented by civil society organisations; and the culture of cattle rustling is gradually being replaced by other means of income.
Rose Nakut warmly welcomes the change, and she actively promotes it in various ways, for example as a mother by sending her eight children to school:
“I don’t want them to suffer as I have. The girls should not marry early and the boys should not raid and become warriors. They need education to have a different life.”
She is also active in one of the more than 200 local women’s groups operating in Moroto District and registered with Karamoja women Umbrella Organisation (KAWUO).
“As mothers we want our children to live peacefully and as wives we don’t want our husbands to go on raiding. We need to start loving other things than cows, meat and milk. But we need support to develop other means of income,” Rose Nakut says.
She and her fellow group members have received training by KAWUO, and she has been on the radio to explain her message and discovered that she was listened to and that her message was well received.
Richard Omoding is the coordinator of KAWUO and explains that the aim is to have two women’s groups in each parish in Karamoja. And the groups make a difference:
“We see, for example, that the local councils now acknowledge that women should be taken on board and that they actively consult the women’s groups.”
But KAWUO accountant Emmanuel Opio adds that the women not only focus on human rights and peace:
“They keep asking for livelihood projects, but that is not a core activity of KAWUO, so we try the best we can to link them to other relevant organisations for that.”
As a result of a KAWUO contact to the First Lady and Minister for Karamoja Affairs, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) sponsored a tractor to plough a total of 760 acres of land for women’s groups in Napak and Moroto Districts. The groups were also provided with improved seeds and cassava cuttings to improve household food security. Besides, OPM is in the process of restocking all women groups in Karamoja. Restocking has started in Kotido District where two women’s groups have been selected per parish and given goats, heifers or oxen. A total of more than 300 cows and 200 goats have been distributed so far.
’’We need to start loving other things than cows, meat and milk.
The calculated risk approach
A fragile peace has come to Karamoja. Villagers see government and donors moving in.
While most donors were initially reluctant to move into the hostile Karamoja Region, Danida HUGGO took a calculated risk approach.
A few years ago, crossing into Karamoja without escort vehicles and soldiers was just a dream because of Karamojong cattle rustlers. Nowadays, however, people can cross into the region without having to fear for their lives. A fragile peace has eventually come to the region that for years was neglected both by government and donors. They were busy focusing on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in northern Uganda. Meanwhile, Karamoja was effectively left to local warlords.
In 1977 the police gave up altogether and withdrew from the region leaving the little policing that was done to the army, which only served to signal that lawlessness reigned.
But with peace coming to Northern Uganda, attention is slowly shifting to Karamoja, and while there is still a long way to go, a lot has happened. There is visible change and hope. Since its formation in 2008, the Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Programme (KIDDP) has become an influential and accepted development framework for all initiatives undertaken by the various actors in Karamoja. It has become an effective coordination mechanism; the First Lady, Janet Museveni, was appointed minister for Karamoja in February 2009, reflecting that the region has now become a government priority after years of neglect that have resulted in a lack of basic services like schools, water, roads, health services etc.
And Danida HUGGO has played an active part in the change, according to Flavia Waduwa, under-secretary, Department for Pacification and Development in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
“When we receive funding from donors it is normally based on a detailed plan of future activities, but when we developed the KIDDP it was impossible to plan everything in advance. The region was marred by years of conflict and as government representatives we were sometimes attacked when we showed up at manyattas (traditional homesteads). Most donors shied away from funding what at times seemed very difficult, but Danida HUGGO supported the process throughout and showed the flexibility that was key to building mutual trust and developing the KIDDP as the platform which draws together all actors,”
Flavia Waduwa says and adds that Danida HUGGO programme officer Peter Amodoi has played a crucial role throughout the process.
“He hails from Karamoja, speaks the local language and knows the culture. He accompanied government representatives to manyattas and was able to build trust at a critical point in time.” Since 2009 Peter Amodoi has been seconded by Danida HUGGO to the Office of the Prime Minister as the national coordinator of KIDDP, and he is based in Moroto.
An ear to the ground
“This is a challenging region,” Peter Amodoi concedes, “but the situation has improved dramatically compared to just three years ago, and Danida HUGGO can take some of the credit for that. Compared to other donors, Danida HUGGO has a very dynamic and flexible approach which makes it possible to respond immediately to emergencies. And that is a must in a region where conflicts between local communities and the authorities still occur.”
Peter Amodoi also praises Danida HUGGO for founding its intervention on local expertise like himself rather than international experts, and for accepting risks:
“Danida HUGGO put an ear to the ground rather than flying in with its own solutions and accepted that a different approach to supporting civil society was necessary. Traditionally donors do not want to be seen as creating new civil society organisations, but only want to support already existing ones. But what if formal civil society organisations are not there, as was the case in Karamoja? we went to the field, talked to people, identified the few groups that existed like ARELIMOK and OCODI, but also informal groups which were not registered and did not have a board. We helped them meet the formal requirements and now you have organisations like the Karamoja women Umbrella Organisation with more than 200 registered women’s group. They reach out to all corners and villages of the region and play a vital role. And, interestingly, other donors are now also coming to their support. If we had chosen the more rigorous, traditional approach, KAWUO would not be there.”
Danida HUGGO has also supported the establishment of a civil society network, ’Riamiriam’ (Karamojong word for meeting point), as well as biannual meetings of the local councils of the seven districts in Karamoja. They get together to discuss security and other cross-cutting issues and their suggestions are taken to government and parliament.
Peter Amodoi acknowledges that there is still a long way to go but, with the appointment of the First Lady as a full cabinet minister for Karamoja and the continued commitment by government to disarmament, he is optimistic:
“Government is scaling up investments in Karamoja and donors are coming in but, most importantly, people in Karamoja demonstrate that they want change.”
’’Danida HUGGO put an ear to the ground rather than flying in with its own solutions.
From 2008-2010, Danida HUGGO provided OPM/KIDDP with USD 345,000. Another USD 260,000 was used to finance the process of establishing the KIDDP structure and the development of the KIDDP document.
For more information on Karamoja:
Restoring law and order
“Laws do exist in Uganda, but until recently there was no law enforcement in Karamoja,” observes Raphael Ertoi, an LC3 chairman in Moroto District. It was this absence of law and order which led Paul Ngole, who has a professional background in public administration, to establish a local NGO, Action for Poverty Reduction and Livestock Management (ARELIMOK), in Karamoja in Moroto in 2002.
“At the time, police was absent and the army was responsible for the little security that was here. People’s trust in authorities was non-existent, and a disarmament programme launched in 2002 did little to change that. People were forced to hand over their arms, and the soldiers were very rude. There were several cases of torture and soldiers looting local communities,” Paul Ngole recalls.
“We set up ARELIMOK to improve the socio-economic status of the pastoralists and to try to bridge the traditional and modern systems of justice. People here don’t have much faith in the modern, formal justice system – and for good reason. They have never seen it work. But going back to traditional ’law’ mechanisms is not an option. Traditionally, conflicts would be settled by elders, but often conflicts escalated because people would retaliate rather than seek reconciliation.”
Since 2010, ARELIMOK has been supported by the Legal Aid Basket Fund managed by Danida HUGGO to provide legal aid:
“People here do not know their rights and they do not know how to claim their rights. How should they? we offer legal aid, help people take offences to the authorities and represent them in court, but we also help mediate conflicts whenever possible.”
ARELIMOK deals with a wide range of cases – land and inheritance disputes, rape, and torture – often connected to the disarmament programme. Standing up against the army and authorities has not always made ARELIMOK popular.
“We have received threats, but things are slowly improving. We now have good cooperation with most local authorities. They do not see us as troublemakers any more, but appreciate that they also need civil society organisations as bridge builders to local communities.”
Rape is a crime
Life has been tough for Margaret Okol and her five children, but things are slowly improving.
“Life is better than it used to be, but still life is not good,” soft-spoken Margaret Akol says. She is 35 years old and lives in a small village with her five children close to Lotome in Napak District. Security has improved, but women still risk being attacked when fetching firewood and water, and her family still depends partly on food aid.
Margaret Akol has benefitted from human rights training by the local NGO, Omanimani Community and Development Initiative (OCODI) and among other things has learned the importance of sending her children to school and that rape is a crime.
OCODI was formed in 2002 to deal with the pressing security problems, to promote dialogue and education. It took its name from the local river, Omanimani. OCODI coordinator Mark Ilokol explains that while OCODI respects cultural traditions and leaders, they also challenge them.
“In our culture elders are very influential. They can mediate and stop conflicts, but also escalate them. Unfortunately, until recently there was little mediation and most conflicts escalated. we are now – with the Legal Aid Basket Fund support – training local communities, elders, women and youth in dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution.”
Like Arelimok, OCODI also provides legal aid to locals.
Abraham Lobong explains that the training has helped bring about dramatic change for the better in the area:
“As Karamojong we used to fight among ourselves. Not long ago we were fighting with our neighbours living just six kilometres from here. Now we live in peace and interact.”
Get to know your neighbour
Neighbouring Teso has suffered severely from the conflicts in Karamoja. Now women’s groups are trying to restore good neighbourliness.
The cattle rustling and conflicts in Karamoja have not only affected Karamoja. The insecurity and suffering have spilled over into neighbouring areas like Teso, Acholi, Lango and parts of western Kenya. For decades Teso has been the hardest hit region.
Here the cattle raids have cost the loss of lives and livestock, people have been forced to live under harsh conditions as internally displaced people in camps, social services have almost collapsed and economic development has suffered.
It is no wonder that relations between the Karamojong and neighbouring Iteso are not that friendly.
This was the background against which the Teso-Karamoja Women’s Initiative for Peace (TEKWIP) was launched as a local initiative in 2003 and supported by Danida HUGGO.
“It is the women and children who suffer when the men fight. In the past there have been attempts to bring peace, but they have all been dominated by men and have failed. Now it was time for women to take action,” Rose Kedi, chairperson of TEKWIP, says.
And TEKWIP has seen impressive growth and results. TEKWIP has registered 131 groups of women and youths and works closely with Karamoja women Umbrella Organisation (KAWUO) and other local groups and organisations.
“We are active in five districts of Teso and all seven districts of Karamoja and we reach out to all groups, not only to women and youth, but also to men and the elderly.”
Most importantly, the tension between the neighbouring groups of Karamojong and Iteso is also subsiding, at least among the people that are directly involved in the cross-border activities:
“Before, people from Teso and Karamoja could not even go on the same bus. That has completely changed,” says Lawrence Okol, a TEKWIP board member from Teso. “The exchange visits to our neighbours and former enemies have paved the way for dialogue and peaceful co-existence, but there is still some way to go. Training, sensitization, dance, music and theatre promoting dialogue can take us a long way. But the hard-liners will only give up their guns when they have other ways of making an income.”
’’ It is the women and children who suffer when the men fight
Put an end to isolation
Karamojong have not only been in conflict with their neighbours. Conflicts also thrive among the ten different clans of the Karamojong. Here, the groups of TEKWIP, KAWUO and other civil society organisations also play a vital role in solving those conflicts and building peace by simply bringing an end to the isolation most Karamojong lived in during the conflict and exposing people to other people and areas.
“Before joining TEKWIP, I only knew Moroto. I did not know Teso or Kotido, but I have come to know so many new areas and people through TEKWIP,” says Lomilo Regina Florence who chairs TEKWIP in Moroto. Breaking the isolation is the first step towards making new friends and getting to know other ways of living and making an income.
“Youths living in remote places need help, and girls suffer the most,” Lomilo Regina Florence adds. They only have two ways of making income: Collecting firewood and brewing local beer. They have to go far to collect firewood and risk being raped, beaten and even killed. Through the groups we can connect people and put an end to the isolation.”
Between 2009 and 2011, Danida HUGGO provided TEKWIP with approximately USD 165,000.
TEKWIP has registered 131 youth and women's groups advocating for peaceful coexistence.
In 2009 alone, TEKWIP has helped over 30 youth warriors abandon warrior activities and engage in the promotion of peace and the prevention of violence. By January 2011, another 90 young warriors had been in touch with TEKWIP to facilitate their return to normal life, and they could all become peace-builders.
Karacuna turned Peace Warrior
Life is not easy for Naur Philip Acila (29) living in the small village of Lokitelaebu in Kotido District: He has no job, no cattle, his wife is sick and he has two children to look after. But still, life now is much better than before. Up until January 2010 he lived like most other male Karamojong youths as a karacuna (youth warrior) in the bush with his AK47 raiding cattle and ambushing vehicles.
“We were dressed in rags and lived like foreigners in our own country. I had to leave my wife behind and rarely saw my children.”
Naur Philip Acila did not choose life as a karacuna:
“I did not get the choice. It is not the people of Karamoja, that are bad, but the conditions. Without the famine and the hostile climate we would not steal and raid. we prefer peace. But the government never supported us.”
It was one of the women groups of TEKWIP that made Naur Philip Acila give up life in the bush, surrender his AK47 to the authorities, and join a youth group to advocate for peace. The women have to go to secret places to make contacts to the karacunas. Otherwise the youths fear that they will be rounded up by the army.
Naur Philip Acila was not given any compensation for his AK47 to help him off to a new start. Still, he is grateful to the women:
“I’m not tempted to return to the bush. I am happy with my family and feel secure even without my gun.”
This page forms part of the publication 'Governance for Development' as chapter 12 of 15
Version 1.0. 03-10-2011
Publication may be found at the address http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/11090/index.htm