Solving the Karamoja Equation
Uganda's Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Hon. Aston Kajara.

Solving the Karamoja Equation

The guns are a wide problem in the region because the gun is the weapon of choice used during cattle rustling operations in Karamoja and its neighbouring areas.

By Richards Wasswa
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First published: December 12, 2007

The Government of Uganda has put in place a special Ministry for Karamoja Affairs. Ultimate Media's Richards Wasswa interviewed the Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Hon. Aston Kajara about Karamoja and its place in Uganda's race to modernization.

Karamoja: Uganda's Land of Warrior Nomads
Karamoja cover

Photography by David Pluth.
Stories by S. Onyang
and J. O'Kasick

About the book

Richards: Uganda has cabinet ministers for defence, internal affairs, health, etc. but you happen to be the minister for Karamoja Affairs. Some people might ask why we have a government ministry strictly for Karamoja...

Hon. Kajara: Karamoja is situated in northeastern Uganda and comprises of the districts of Moroto, Kotido, and Nakapiripirit. The Ministry of Karamoja Affairs is under the Prime Minister's office, paying special attention to the affairs of the region. The ministry was put in place because of the frequent critical situations in the region, which are born mostly out of internal and external conflicts as well as Karamoja's low level of development.

The ministry is also a special programme of the Government of Uganda to coordinate activities in the region directly, since this region needs special attention to achieve similar development levels to those in other parts of Uganda. My job is to make sure that the government's activities take off and are implemented according to plan.

The Ugandan public used to hear a slogan; "We shall not wait for Karamoja to develop." [Also read] Is the government now singing another tune?

That slogan was overtaken by events and the relevant slogan now is 'We need to achieve Karamoja's development with other parts of Uganda.'

What would you say best describes the Karamoja region?

The two things that best describe the Karamoja region are the nomadic lifestyle of the people of Karamoja and pastoralism, which is extensively practiced in the region.

What would one feed on when in Karamoja? People who have never been to Karamoja have been told that the inhabitants survive only on milk, meat and blood from their cattle!

Apart from drinking cows' milk and blood and eating beef, Karamoja has other food varieties grown on a small scale. These include sorghum, rice, wheat and other cereals. Since such food is grown once a year due to the region's long droughts, the population largely depends on donated food from Uganda's development partners.

Most of the stories coming from Karamoja are negative. We hear of cattle rustling, disarmament exercises, famine, the poorest performance in national examinations, etc. What good things are happening in Karamoja?

Hon. Aston Kajara
Hon. Aston Kajara.

The disarmament exercise was started to create harmony and end cattle raids from foreigners in the region. When the President of Uganda got involved in the disarmament exercise, the Karamojong voluntarily surrendered over 10,000 guns and the exercise by UPDF is ongoing.

How serious is the gun problem in Karamoja?

The guns are a wide problem in the region because the gun is the weapon of choice used during cattle rustling operations in Karamoja and its neighbouring areas. The guns in Karamoja created a threat to the neighbouring areas because there is no proper control of the guns that are in hands of individuals in Karamoja. While the Karamojongs might argue that the guns are used for their personal protection and that of their assets (cattle), guns are always easily used for acts of armed robbery.

Human Rights Watch recently released a report saying that the Government of Uganda is using the disarmament exercise as an excuse to torture people in Karamoja...

That is not true at all. The Ugandan government has used the disarmament exercise to create peace and harmony in the region.

Is there a government master plan to develop the region? If it exists, what does it involve?

The Government of Uganda, through the Karamoja affairs ministry, has several plans, all intended to develop Karamoja. They include improving heath facilities, education and improving basic infrastructure. The northeastern region of Uganda is to benefit from the alternative basic education for Karamoja (ABEK) programme, which the Government of Uganda is implementing together with its development partners.

We are also building a vocational technical institution that will give local people technical skills. The government is also looking at constructing primary boarding schools and supporting other development programs started by private partners.�This is on top of planning to boost agriculture in Karamoja by establishing region-based agriculture research units.

The lives of most Karamojongs rotate around cattle. As the human and cattle populations increase on land of fixed size, what is being done to ensure that the Karamojongs and their cattle survive in the long term?

The people of Karamoja should look beyond cattle keeping and involve themselves in other activities, since the Ugandan government is lending them a hand. For example, land cultivation and engaging in manufacturing activities can help people earn useful incomes.

What do the Karamojongs have to thank the current Ugandan government for?

It is not only Karamoja that should thank the NRM government for the activities intended to lead to Karamoja's development but the rest of the regions in Uganda too. If Karamoja stabilises, everybody will want to do business with Karamoja. Karamoja itself should thank the NRM government because it is the only government in Uganda's history that considered focusing specifically on Karamoja in order to achieve uniform development in Uganda.

By Richards Wasswa
more from author >>
First published: December 12, 2007
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