MOROTO– The Karimojong are reportedly re-arming sending fears that this will reverse the achievements so far registered by the disarmament programme.
Reports across the sub-region indicate that there is renewed armed cattle raids and conflicts in Karamoja after the ethnic tribes started re-arming. The ethnic tribes in Karamoja include Jie, Matheniko, Pien, Pokot of Uganda, Dodoth and Tepeth.
The local leaders say the cattle rustlers’ have again started wreaking havoc on the communities.
According to reports from the religious and local leaders, there is an emergence of a new model of re-arming among Karimojong warriors which is threatening to derail the achievements of the disarmament exercise
At a meeting to brief European Union delegation to Karamoja, the LCV chairperson for Moroto, Keem Napaja, told the audience that the Turkana [Kenya], Didinga [South Sudan] and Pokot [Kenya] are using porous borders to sneak guns into Karamoja.
“And because the Karimojong are not armed, they become the market for the guns from other tribes across the region who use porous borders to sneak into Karamoja,” Napaja told the meeting at C and D Hotel in Moroto 6 December.
He explained that the armed Turkana, Didinka and Pokot have also started armed cattle rustling from the Karimojong making them to re-arm in order to fight off cattle rustling.
Napaja explained that since the end of the UPDF disarmament exercise in 2011, Karamoja now suffers significantly higher levels of small arms violence from armed cross border cattle raiders than before the disarmament exercise that started in 2001.
“Those days, the Turkana, Pokot and Didinka would fear to cross the border and attack us because we were armed but after the disarmament exercise, we became vulnerable and now we are suffering armed cattle raids almost every fortnight,” added Napaja.
Rt Rev Bishop Joseph Abura, Church of Uganda, Karamoja asked government review the level at which the re-armament is taking place in the region and re-launch the second phase of disarmament that should involve other countries where warriors go to hide.
Karamoja is one of the world’s most armed violence-afflicted regions, since the 1970s, cattle raids have escalated in lethality with the proliferation of modern assault rifles.
The UPDF ended the disarmament exercise in 2011 with the Chief of Defence Forces then Late Gen. Aronda Nyakairima indicating that UPDF would relocate its manpower to address inadequacies in social services, especially in health and education, which are urgently required if Karamoja is to catch up with the development pace of other regions.
The European Union head of delegation, H.E Ambassador-designate Attilio Pacifici (Italy) urged government to apply broad civilian participatory approaches in disarmament within Karamoja sub-region to end the re-armament.
“The presence and emergence of a fresh re-armament pauses a challenge to the development of Karamoja that has started taking route, government needs to engage countries like Kenya and South Sudan to also disarm in order to end the armed conflict that is taking root right now,” said Mr Pacific.
The European Union delegation of ambassadors was in Karamoja on an annual visit to understand challenges and opportunities in Karamoja and interacted with all stakeholders.
The minister of Karamoja affairs, John Byabagambi, said the governments of Kenya and Uganda had agreed to conduct joint cross-border disarmament in Uganda and North Pokot and Turkana in Kenya and that he would follow it up.
“It is true the Karimojong are re-arming and that is why we need the second phase of disarmament to help us to get rid of arms from cattle rustlers who are disturbing peace in the three,” said Byabagambi.
The UPDF 3rd division Commander Brig Richard Otto consented there were increased cases of armed cattle raids in Karamoja orchestrated by the Turkana, Didinka and Pokot but reduced it to cattle theft in the region whose magnitude is small.
“True, there is re-arming taking place here that could again escalate the armed cattle raids but we are getting to it and are going to write to the president to engage the presidents of Kenya and Tanzania to also disarm their people,” said Brig Otto.