President Yoweri Museveni wants decisive action from the police to end the problem of cattle rustling after the country reported a surge in incidents in the east of the country.
On Wednesday, the President met security chiefs including the army top officers, police, resident district commissioners, internal security organisation officers and Uganda Wildlife Authority officials over the security situation in Karamoja, which has affected the neighbouring regions of Teso, Bugisu, Sebei and has spilled over into Kenya.
He directed security chiefs in Bugisu, Sebei and Teso to target illegal guns, saying this could be the lasting solution to end the vice.
“The issue of guns in Kenya and South Sudan should not concern us. The problem is internal. Because if you try to tie our internal security problem with what happens in the neighbouring countries, we shall never get peace,” President Museveni said.
Cattle rustling is endemic in the region, touching on Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, where illegal guns are exchanged and leaked easily across porous borders. But the Ugandan leader says rustling persists because security agencies and local communities have refused to cooperate.
He said good policing could help end cattle rustling, citing the examples of the West Nile region and most of Kenya.
“Communities there do not support the practice of looting livestock. The areas are also better policed,” he argued.
Recent rustling incidents have left behind a trail of death, rape and destruction and threatened the prevailing peace and security.
“Cattle rustling is now commercial. When people steal cows, they want to sell them for slaughter. There are not many roads here; mount roadblocks so that they are intercepted,” he said.
He added that with other increasing crimes including murder and rape, there is a need for police to establish units per sub-county.
“Even without enough manpower, we can deal with that problem. The bigger the manpower, the bigger the wage bill. We can’t build roads and other infrastructure if we have to deal with cattle thieves,” he said.
According to the UPDF commander Brig Gen Joseph Balikuddembe who is heading the war against rustlers in the region, armed Ugandan rustlers cross over to raid Kenya and South Sudan, sparking counter attacks.
Balikuddembe cited an example of the criminal elements from Uganda like the Jie of Kotido, the Dodoth of Kaabong who normally cross over to Kenya especially Nakitong'o areas of Turkana West Sub-County and Orumu and they raid cows frequently.
“The Turkana carry out revenge attacks, the number of times that our people crossed to raid. Otherwise, if our people don’t cross over to raid, then the Turkana will not raid us. The problem starts with our people here who raid amongst themselves and after cross over to the other side,” he said.
He added that since May 16, the army has recovered 83 guns from arrested rustlers and hundreds of rustlers have been killed or arrested.
Security agencies together with local leaders have mounted a disarmament exercise in the region to rid it of guns with the help of local leaders. According to reports, some incidents are voluntary while most of them are forceful.
Several youths in the region are beginning to flee to safer parts of the country.