From their largely remote enclaves in north eastern Uganda the Karimojong are coming out fighting. They can’t tolerate anymore a situation akin to a mother feeding visitors while her children starve.
A Member of Parliament (MP) from Karamoja has accused the Uganda government of neglecting its own people, instead looking after refugees while the Karimojong die of hunger.
Samson Lokeris, the MP Dodoth East, Kabong Distict, and Chairperson Karamoja Parliamentary Group, says while government can borrow money to look after refugees, it cannot do the same to supply sufficient water for people and animals in Karamoja.
Uganda is one of the most favourable places in the world for refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Above food relief, Uganda gives them land, education and even allows them to set up businesses.
Karamoja has faced a long dry spell that has left many without food. The Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) in February declared the region food insecure, with up to 65 percent of the population only accessing one or half a meal a day.
Speaking recently at a meeting in Moroto, Lokeris said: “We have been borrowing money. I am on the [Parliamentary] committee on national economy. The other day we were in Kiryandongo to borrow money to support refugees in Kiryandongo, and the Karimajong are dying! Uganda is now a country that is well known for refugees but it doesn’t care for its own people.”
“We [Ugandans] are now internationally well known. A good country you can go to. But the Karimojong are dying, the Iteso are dying,” Lokeris added.
The meeting, held on the World Water Day, was organised by the Kyoga Water Management Zone (KWMZ), GIZ and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to raise awareness about the development benefits that can come to Karamoja through managing water at catchment or basin level. Lokeris was the Chief Guest.
“We are here celebrating today but some people are walking 10km looking for water. The Karimajong have moved their cows to the west looking for water. Go to Kenya and you will find water being pumped to urban areas 120km. We have Lake Bisina where we can have a system to pump water for all our towns but we go on drilling boreholes,” said Lokeris.
Lokeris was critical of the country’s technical people responsible for water saying: “I think in the last 30 years you [technical] people have not been planning. You have been doing things haphazardly. Small dams you put, valley tanks, small ones. During the dry season they dry up, and you are proud that you have put 50 dams!”
“We [Karamoja MPs] met President Museveni on the 3rd of March and we had one agenda, water. After we met the President people from the ministries of water and agriculture came and met us in Parliament and said they are looking for Ushs 1.4 trillion to supply water for Karamoja. Can you imagine! Where have you been before? And this is the docket for water. When there is money people hijack it,” added a bitter Lokeris.
Tomas Lonkwang, the Executive Director Karitas Moroto said over the years the region has had little rain, and it has not been coming in time, making it unreliable for food production. Karitas is the development arm of the Catholic Church.
“For the last two years some farmers have got zero harvest. The church is very much concerned. People lack food. They go to urban areas to look for leftover food. They migrate to other areas – all this because the drought has become worse,” said Lonkwang.
Two researchers from IWMI, Dr. Liza Debevec and Dr. Alan Nicol, have been studying the water situation in Karamoja, especially to look into challenges and possible solutions to Karamoja’s water issue.
“Karamoja like other parts on Uganda is dependent on rain for crop production and, for livestock. There has not been rain since the September- October season. There has only been three days of rain recently. People have to go out to look for other sources of livelihood outside agriculture, outside livestock, daily labouring through charcoal selling, firewood selling, working in quarries. These are all related to lack of agricultural production due to little rain – which can be attributed to climate change in the region,” said Dr. Debevec, a social anthropologist with IWMI
“The other thing is huge social transformation. This is an area which was affected by conflict for a long time. Trough disarmament changes happened. People have given up their arms. Because cattle raiding is no longer a practice they don’t have much cattle as they had before. Women were doing agriculture on a smaller scale but now they have to take on the bigger burden of agriculture because men were traditionally not involved in this. And what is the role of men now that they are no longer having the large numbers of animals that they had before? Gender issues come in here,” she adds.
Dr. Nicol, the Principal Researcher and Sustainable Growth Programme Lead, IWMI, said the key solutions lie in local people being effectively responsive to the challenges as well as institutions, including government and other partners working together more effectively.
“There is a need to build momentum and movement, call it social movement on the ground where by changes take place even down to the community and household levels because a lot of these water resources management challenges start with the decisions made by households. To develop an income stream many have resorted to charcoal production and firewood collection. This brings in income but if it is done unsustainably it depletes the environment and in the long run no one has an income. Starting social movements, starting tree planting, starting ways of managing the resource more sustainably is essential,” said Dr. Nicol.
“Institutionally, the lead institution has to be government at different levels districts, parishes, sub parishes… They need to be thinking more carefully about the needs of the population. It is important to build resilience of the populations through soil and water conservation and effective siting of dams and valley tanks. It is also important to think in the long term about the wider catchment through building effective means of delivering forests and resources for wood fuel and other sources of energy,” he added.