A deal between Uganda and Kenya to promote cross-border communities from conflict zones to peace and development hubs remains hanging due to the resurgent insecurity.
According to security sources, there are about 500 illegal guns still in the hands of the warriors, a situation the army and local leaders say now demands “forceful disarmament.”
“The leadership recognises that with voluntary disarmament, we are not achieving the objective to fast enough,” said Capt James Edrin Mawanda, spokesman of Uganda Peoples Defence Forces Third Infantry Division.
Despite the human rights violations against civilians witnessed in Phase Two of disarmament from 2001–2010, the local leaders argue that disarmament is necessary
“This disarmament is called for by leaders at national and regional level to cure this place of insecurity,” said David Koryang, the Moroto District chairman. “Voluntary disarmament cannot succeed because the whole region is in conflict.”
President Yoweri Museveni and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta signed the UNDP supported Cross-Border Sustainable Peace and Development deal in September 2019 in Moroto but it remains on paper after the region plunged into insecurity.
The UN-supported intervention, led by a ministerial committee co-chaired by Kenya and Uganda, was expected to be implemented in the region to reduce tensions resulting from access to shared resources such as water and pasture.
The agreement was meant to see the Karamoja, Turkana and Pokot communities share water resources such as the 2.3 million cubic litres Kebebe dam, serving over 1.5 million animals from the pastoralist Turkana and Karimojong communities. It would also enable the communities to share pasture and benefit from improved road network linking Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
But Karamoja’s districts of Kaabong, Kotido, Moroto and Napak have remained hotspots of cattle rustling related conflict, which involves killing, abduction and stealing, for the two years since the deal was signed.
Small arms routes through Kenya have given access to guns and renewed conflict among the Karimojong, who had effectively disarmed over a decade ago.
Local leaders in the region blame the renewed cattle rustling related conflict on lack of a uniform policy on disarmament among neighbouring countries, but also, government’s failure to deliver developmental programmes that would change communities’ mindset away from the gun.
“Disarmament worked but our neighbours the Pokot and Turkana remained armed,” says Mr Koryang.
“The president promised us protection if the gun went and it did. He also promised other developmental programmes for the youths, but he did not deliver. No meaningful cross-border programmes can take place when we still have the gun moving from one country to the other,” he adds.
Karamoja region is rich in tourism and wildlife, livestock and minerals but it contributes less than one percent of Uganda’s total GDP due to conflict.