Three issues to address to avoid conflict in Karamoja29 May 2018
After witnessing a long period of armed conflict and isolation, Karamoja – one of Uganda’s most underdeveloped regions – is now beginning to open up to the world. Despite being on the path to progress, Henrik Olsson Selerud explores the emerging concerns of communities and recommends steps to take to avoid future conflict.
Karamoja, in north-eastern Uganda, has a long history of conflict and under-development. This has contributed to high levels of poverty and peoples’ animosity towards elites, especially in the capital Kampala.
Widespread access to arms and a prevalent gun culture contributed to intense periods of violence, and have held back locally-led peace and development initiatives. From 2002 to 2009, the government led a disarmament campaign which strengthened their control over Karamoja, and created an opportunity for communities to build peace and participate in development.
Guns piled up ready for symbolic destruction as part of celebrating International Peace Day 2013 in Moroto, Karamoja, Uganda. At the time, Karamoja was in the process of emerging from a ten-year government disarmament programme. Photograph: Saferworld.
An increased concentration on community-led development has enticed external engagement with this resource-rich region. Despite this, serious challenges remain unaddressed. Investors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and authorities engaging in Karamoja can benefit from understanding and addressing pressures placed on communities, to avoid future instability.
Saferworld has been working with communities, local government, and civil society in Karamoja, to reduce the risk of conflict and promote the peaceful resolution of resource-based conflicts. Through this engagement, we have identified on-going and emerging conflict issues to help inform those involved in the region – so that they can respond more effectively to the concerns of communities. These issues centre around three main themes:
1. Proliferation of small arms across borders
While the security situation in Karamoja has stabilised in recent years, the porous borders with Kenya and South Sudan means that there is a continuous movement of people, livestock, and small arms. The absence of disarmament in Kenya has led to re-armament among some Karamojong communities in an attempt to counter threats from armed Turkana cattle rustlers from Kenya.
Community members we spoke to in the region expressed an increased sense of insecurity that stems from being unable to defend their livestock. Feeling subjugated and powerless, there is nostalgia for the era before disarmament.
Women take part in a focus group discussion in Nadunget sub-county, Moroto district, Uganda. The discussion focused on what women feel is expected of them to be considered a 'real Karimojong woman' and the conflicts that happen in their community. Photograph: Saferworld/Ramon Sanchez Orense.
2. Exploitation of resources
Increasing interest in Karamoja’s mineral wealth has left communities exposed to exploitation by private investors and elites who are eyeing the rich resources in the region. Over 61 per cent of Karamoja’s land is reportedly already licensed for mining exploration and extraction,
The presence of limestone, marble and gold has also led large numbers of Ugandans to flock to mostly unlicensed mines in search of a living. Mining companies and individuals experience challenges in accessing land for mining operations, because the customary tenure system is not explicit on ownership rights. Land administration and management institutions are also inefficient. Amid the general confusion, and lack of a strong regulatory framework, disadvantaged communities are easily exploited.
The recent discovery of oil in the Kadam-Moroto basin and the expansion of the mining sector have created new conflict dynamics in the Karamoja region, with land grabbing becoming a concern for the government and communities. Local government in many districts is severely understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with these emerging issues. For example, the land office in Nakapiripirit, a district facing large-scale land grabbing cases, only staffs one out of its 12 open positions.
A miner breaks stone at a marble mine in Rupa sub-county, Moroto district, Karamoja region. Photograph: Saferworld/Ramon Sanchez Orense.
3. Shifting migration and livelihoods
People in Karamoja have strong sociocultural ties to their neighbours in Kenya. There is a tradition of shared grazing land between the Pokot in Amudat and the Pokot in Kenya. Yet, in recent years, climate change and differing livelihood opportunities are putting a strain on relationships between communities.
Weapons were instrumental in protecting the cattle economy in Karamoja, and following disarmament by the government of Uganda, many traditionally pastoralist households are turning to agriculture and mining for income. The change in land use has caused new conflict dynamics as old alliances shift and new ones form with investors, companies and NGOs.
A marble miner from Rupa sub-county in Moroto district, Karamoja. Rupa's mining communities experience conflict over minerals and land as well as workers' rights issues such as inadequate pay. Photograph: Saferworld/Ramon Sanchez Orense.
Prospects for peace
Historical marginalisation combined with cross-border security issues and land grabbing are potent ingredients for an explosive situation. But steps can be taken to avoid future instability:
Local government and communities should continue their important work to formalise small-scale miners in the region, to enable them to secure their fair share of profits from the industry. Building mining associations will prepare communities for peacefully addressing the challenges that may come with oil extraction.
The government of Uganda should look to streamline the governing systems on extractives and land, combined with a people-centred approach toward policy reform. Local government deserves adequate resources to be able to deal with emerging land issues.
National and international investors would benefit from understanding conflict dynamics in the Karamoja region. Inclusive and genuine corporate social responsibility initiatives are most effective when implemented at the earliest possible stage, in collaboration with affected communities. This helps ensure investments are sustainable and beneficial for all.
Civil society organisations and donors should continue to recognise that Karamoja is a fragile region, especially given its legacy of historical violence. They should seek to make their work in the region conflict-sensitive.
External actors engaging in Karamoja can play an important role in avoiding future conflict. But only by working collaboratively, with local groups, can they address the concerns of communities and invest in peaceful and inclusive development in the region.
Read more on Saferworld’s work on the issues of land, conflict and extractives in north-eastern Uganda: Uganda’s mining sector: key considerations for conflict-sensitive investment in Karamoja
Saferworld has researched the impact of oil finds over the border in Turkana, Kenya. Read more here.