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As Ugandan nomads adapt to drought, less dependence on food aid

After a decade of Ugandan military operations to disarm rival clans, Uganda's Karamoja region has become more secure. Now the region is becoming more self-sufficient.

By Max DelanyCorrespondent / September 7, 2011



Kotido, Uganda

For the vast majority of his life, Mateo Longoli has known little but the nomadic life of a cattle-herder in the remote Karamoja region of Uganda.

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But now, after losing much of his herd to ever-lengthening droughts and cattle raids by rival clans, Mr. Longoli, a chief of the Jie clan, says he realizes that his lifestyle – and that of his children and grandchildren – must change.

They will have to forgo their nomadic tradition and settle down as crop-growing farmers.

“When I was young, the people rarely used to dig and work in the fields. But now we know that we need another way to survive,” Longoli says.

For generations the issues facing the people of Karamoja – the Karamojong – have been seen as insoluble. Wracked by cattle raiding and neglected by successive governments, these inhospitable plains seemed trapped in an intractable cycle of insecurity and dependence on foreign food aid.

But after a decade of military operations – albeit often criticized by human rights organizations as heavy-handed – the Ugandan Army says it is now winding up a disarmament campaign that has largely pacified the region and put a stop to armed cattle rustling.

"What has been done in Karamoja can be a template for dealing with insecurity among pastoral communities,” said Ugandan Army spokesman Felix Kulyagiye. “The Ugandan Army has employed both carrot and stick method: employment of persuasion and force where required."

The improved security situation has enabled the government and international community to shift the focus from emergency aid to sustainable development for the Karamojong – trying to convince people to settle down and plant crops.

This stands in stark contrast to southern Somalia, where the Al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab rebels control large swathes of territory, or even neighboring Kenya’s Turkana district. Cattle raiding in Turkana, which borders Uganda’s Karamoja region, is still rife, because the Kenyan Army’s disarmament campaign has been patchy.

So while nomadic communities in Kenya’s Turkana region and in southern Somalia are bearing the brunt of a famine-inducing cocktail of drought and conflict, the Karamojong have not been hit as hard.

Uganda's plan sees payoff

While that may be due to more favorable weather in Karamoja this year, the Ugandan government says it is the first sign that their policy of making the Karamojong settle down to farm is paying off.

"The Karamojong people had lost the will to struggle against the odds to and produce their own food," Janet Museveni, minister for Karamoja and wife of
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, said in a recent statement. "Our first task was to motivate people to begin the struggle for of food production again," Museveni said, pointing to tractor hire programs as an example.

Karamoja, though, is still a long way from being a success story.

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