MOROTO – Amatida, a local gun crafted locally in Karamoja is one of the reason cattle raids seem not to be ending soon.
Colonial records indicate that the Karimojong started receiving guns as early as 1898 from traders and Abyssinians.
According to volume 28 of the Uganda Journal, the first gun in Karamoja was the Fusil Gras Modèle 1874 M80; a French service rifle of the 19th Century.
The records indicate that it was a robust and hard-hitting weapon, but it had no magazine and so it could only fire one shot after loading. It also had a triangular-shaped sword bayonet, known as the Model 1874 “Gras” sword bayonet.
Mr Samuel Lokol, an elder from Kaabongo says because Karimojong could not access this gun, they started using Fusil Gras Modèle 1874 M80 to make Amatida, a local gun for raiding and attacking their neighbours.
Mr Lokol said although after the fall of former president Idi Amin in 1979, Karimojong looted guns from Moroto barracks, these found the Amatida that was already causing havoc in the area.
“Amatida went silent when guns were acquired from Moroto barracks, people just kept heir Amatida during [the] disarmament [process],” said Mr Lokol.
He explained that after learning that having a gun in Karamoja sub-region is equivalent to committing suicide, the Karimojong warriors have now turned to manufacturing local guns and using spears and arrows for ethnic cattle raids.
The Amatida is made mainly out of wood with a spring that goes through a hole before it enters the metallic pipe at the end of the tunnel and helps in propelling the bullet.
According to former UPDF 3rd division spokesperson Capt Denis Omara, the army arrested two leading gun makers Mr Marko Lomer of Iriri Sub-county and Mr. Moru Atukoi from Matany Sub-county. The two faced the court martial and were given six and three years respectively.
Capt Omara revealed that apart from the locally made gun, the Karimojong cattle rustlers have also resorted to locally made traditional spears, axes, arrows and bows that have of recent cattle raids, although on a small scale.
“Although we have disarmed most of the Karimojong warriors apart from a few hardcore criminals, majority of the warriors have resorted to Amatida, a locally made gun and use of spears, arrows and bows to raid cattle. We have actually reduced the magnitude of the raids,” said Capt Omara now the SFC Spokesperson.
Capt Omara said the UPDF has achieved over 90% having recovered 27,199 guns of the illegal weapons in Karamoja Sub-region since the inception of the disarmament exercise in 2001.
A statement issued after a five-day UPDF top leadership disarmament evaluation meeting in Moroto army barracks, said 10% (about 3,000) of the remaining Karimojong guns are buried underground in a bid to evade confiscation but that the army is determined to get them out.
Omara revealed that although there is no law prohibiting people from possessing spears, arrows and bows, the army is on the lookout for those that are misusing these traditional weapons and that they would arrest anybody they find using them for raiding.
Although when the government launched the disarmament exercise in Karamoja region 15 years ago it was viewed by many as the most paramount initiative for peace and development in the region, the change from the gun to traditional weapons is likely to escalate the cattle raids and dent the peace efforts of the army.
Many a leader in Karamoja thinks that rather than merely disarm the Karimojong, the government should have sought an overall objective of improving the living conditions of the Karimojong through provision of water retaining centres, micro-finance institutions and micro projects in areas of education, health, livestock, agriculture, community and environmental development.
“What drives the Karimojong to cattle rustling is poverty, the difficult environment that can’t support agriculture but if these conditions can be improved, many of the Karimojong would drop cattle rustling and take to alternative sources of income,” said the former presidential adviser on disarmament Mt Michael Lokawua on phone.
Mr Lokawua said although it is true there can’t be economic development without peace just like there can’t be peace without economic development, peace initiatives should have been an integral part of the disarmament exercise and a development package for Karamoja.
By 2003, the Army had registered success–managing to recover more than 10,000 guns. But the disarmament exercise did not guarantee protection for the pastoralists, given the continued raids and loss of life from cross border raids by the Turkana, Pokot and Didinka from Kenya and Southern Sudan respectively
“There appears to be diminishing trust and confidence among pastoralists in the disarmament process because although they have given away their guns to government, their neighbours are still armed,” said Rt. Rev Joseph Abura, Bishop Karamoja diocese.
Mr Abura said the current insecurity is orchestrated by “small criminals” still holding onto illegal guns and Amatida.
“The element of peace can be seen but the protection of life and property is still a challenge because people are now using Amatida and Karimojong neighbours are still armed and keep spreading havoc on the locals” he said.