Saturday May 3 2014

Karamoja paying the price of peace

By Steven Ariong

When cattle rustling was still prevalent in Karamoja, leading to the death of hundreds of ethnic Karimojong and non-Karimojong, very few people dared to go to the semi-arid region.
Since government started disarming Karimojong warriors in 2002, peace has returned to the region.

There is free movement of people to and from Karamoja and rampant incidents of road ambushes are no more although there may be one or two in a year.
Leisure places such as discotheques which were unknown in the region, are now in all the seven districts. People now party the whole night.
However, this peace has come with a price.

The first casualty being the environment.
Mr James Okware, Uganda Wildlife Authority’s senior warden officer for Bokora and Matheniko game reserve, recalls what had kept Karamoja’s environment preserved up to the 1990-2000 when the illegal guns still reigned high in the then volatile sub-region.
He said nobody could move 2km away from their settlement for fear of getting killed or abducted.

In such a fearful situation, the environment remained undisturbed. But after the disarmament and the resultant peace, people from all walks of life have infiltrated Karamoja for various businesses including trading in forest resources.

There is massive felling of trees for charcoal and timber and burning down bushes for both farming and human settlement.
Okware said forest reserves have been heavily encroached on by the community and this has exposed the land to destruction by either vagaries of weather or human activity.

“Although wildlife was under threat when guns were still in the hands of the Karimojong, nobody could cross to cut down any tree or burn bushes because they feared to be killed or abducted. But now we don’t know what will happen to Karamoja’s environment five years from now,” he said recently.
Mr Okware has called for increased law enforcement on environment protection.