Fresh cross-border cattle raids in Karamoja are threatening to tear apart a memorandum of understanding on peace and development, signed barely two months ago between Uganda and Kenya.
Uganda’s northeastern region has suffered a series of cattle raids which local leaders and security agencies say “have intensified since October” this year, with “several people killed and thousands of cattle lost.”
“It’s worrying because in Napak alone, seven warriors have been killed since November,” said Joseph Lomonyang, the district chairperson of Napak.
Mr Lomonyang said that local leaders have been holding inter-district meetings to stem the practice —which had been tamed through a disarmament programme between 2001 and 2010 that saw government recover more than 40,000 guns.
On the morning of December 17, renewed cattle rustling claimed the life of Dan Apollo, the local council chairperson of Rupa sub-County in Moroto district. He was shot dead while trying to intervene in efforts to retrieve cattle that had been stolen the previous night but later rescued and impounded by the army.
Maj Telesphor Turyamumanya, the spokesperson of the Uganda People’s Defence Force, third division confirmed that Mr Apollo was shot by a Local Defence Unit (LDU) vigilante who was involved in the joint rescue operation with the military.
On December 9, The EastAfrican encountered a unit of UPDF right after an operation in which they recovered 124 cattle in Napak district.
The section commander Yusuf Businge said the soldiers “exchanged fire with Turkana rustlers from northern Kenya, but they fled and left the cattle behind,” he said. “It has become rampant these days, but we come in to rescue if we get information in time.”
Renewed cross-border cattle theft is a setback to recent efforts by Kampala and Nairobi, with support from the United Nations, to take the development of pastoralist communities of Karimojong in Uganda, and the Turkana and Pokot in Kenya beyond the two countries as it is a human-rights issue, and touches on the United Nations sustainable development goals.
For example, on September 12, President Yoweri Museveni and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta met in Moroto — the biggest town in Karamoja region — and witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding that is backed by the United Nations Development Programme.
The MoU, dubbed Cross-Border Sustainable Peace and Development seeks to end hostilities among the three neighbouring communities and enhance development in the region by promoting non-violent interactions and collaborations.
The intervention is led by a ministerial committee that is co-chaired by Kenya and Uganda.
The region in which the warring communities live in is drought prone, which fuels tensions due to fights over shared resources, especially water and pasture.
The local leaders argue that in spite of the MoU being in place, the governments of Uganda and Kenya are not doing enough to respond to poverty and other development needs of the communities which trigger cattle theft.
“Disarmament alone is not enough,” said Mr Lomonyang. “Government needs to refocus Karamoja towards development and respond to the root cause of these raids. If they don’t respond, the community will lose confidence. The youths need jobs and other services. Without these, they will revert to cattle rustling.”
Leaders in the region say cattle raids across the border started early this year, when the Dodoth community of Kaabong district in northern Uganda were attacked by the Turkana; the raids then spread to Kotido district where the Jie community faced off with the Kenyan nomads, who continued to make forays into Karamoja’s other districts of Napak and Moroto.
Local leaders say the number of animals stolen keep rising as the raids become more frequent, but since October, there have been more than a dozen attacks, resulting in an estimated 4,000 cattle lost to suspected rustlers from Kenya.
However, Maj Turyamumanya said that while there are many raids by the Turkana, clans in Karamoja are also involved in renewed cattle rustling and in the process kill people and raid military detaches to steal guns.
“Some of these incidents are perpetrated by locals. On December 7, one of our detach units was raided, the wife of a soldier was killed and two guns from LDUs were taken because the raiders knew the unit was understaffed,” said Maj Turyamumanya.
Uganda successfully launched and carried out the disarmament exercise from 2001, but guns estimated to be under 2,000 reportedly remained within Karamoja especially among the Jie community; Kenya did not disarm the pastoralists on its side of the border, leaving Karimojong vulnerable in case of attacks.
On September 12, President Yoweri Museveni and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta witnessed the signing of the Cross-Border Sustainable Peace and Development deal in Moroto, Uganda
It seeks to end hostilities among three neighbouring communities — the Karimojong of Uganda and Turkana and Pokot in Kenya — and enhance development in the region by promoting non-violent interactions and collaborations.
The deal is backed by the United Nations Development Programme, and is led by a ministerial committee co-chaired by Kenya and Uganda.