Karimojong are not lazy people, the problem is Uganda’s policy makers
Posted Wednesday, October 2 2013 at 01:00
Livestock provides more food security than growing crops in many arid and semi-arid areas. The food crisis in the Horn is essentially a livestock crisis... and this vulnerability is a result of chronic under-investment.
On September 10, MP Iddi Isabirye (NRM, Bunya East - Mayuge) said in Parliament that the government is doing a lot to help the Karimojong but they can’t develop because they are lazy and only want relief handouts.
I think there are many people, including MPs out there, who reason like Mr Isabirye. That is why I want to clarify this issue. The Karimojong have lived a resilient livelihood in harsh environmental conditions for decades, without any significant government or donor support.
They had over the years developed their own disaster coping strategies. During the disease epidemics of 1898 that wiped out most livestock, the Karimojong sold wildlife products to coastal traders to restock their herds.
There was a robust trade developing between the Karimojong and Italian, Ethiopian, Somali, and Arab traders. By 1905, there were 68 trading posts in Karamoja region. Karamoja was also developing modern governance systems with organs of the State. Under General Loriang as head, the Jie State had a standing army of eight brigades, a parliament comprising elders council, then the ordinary people as workers.
When the British learnt of these developments (the transit of guns through Karamoja to Chief Awich in Acholi, who led the Lamogi rebellion and the influence the Italians were gaining in the sub region, etc), they declared Karamoja a closed district to all civilian personnel. General Loriang was overthrown. A British company, Leipig, was appointed the sole trading company in the region, buying livestock at low prices. This discouraged the Karimojong from trading.
As a result, while other parts of Uganda were growing cotton, coffee, forming cooperatives, etc., the first development plan for Karamoja was not drawn until in 1944. Even so, dams built at the time where mainly used as points to collect hut tax. This colonial intervention, therefore, disrupted the self-reliant budding trade and political organisation of the time.
After independence, Karamoja was largely neglected and marginalised, both politically and economically hence the famous statement by a government official “Uganda can’t wait for Karamoja to develop”.
But even when a small development intervention was tried, they have been ill-conceived in policy approach and poorly designed in execution, leading to gross failures. This causes disillusionment among the Karimojong, whose views are hardly considered in the first place. Most people think of developing Karamoja by changing the Karimojong “to make them like us”, yet the region and its people are unique.
The policy approach has been to view pastoralism as backward, economically unproductive, socially dysfunctional, politically disruptive and overall, unsustainable. So, the solution is to modernise the Karimojong, by settling them, stop mobility, privatise land holdings and promote crop agriculture. As such, they say the Karimojong must first be settled before any development can take place.
As a result, livestock - the mainstay of the region - has been neglected over the years. Yet Karamoja has 20 per cent of all the cattle and half of all the sheep in Uganda. This would naturally be its comparative advantage. But few people are thinking of that. One example is the current Karamoja Food Security Action Plan 2010, under OPM, which has allocated only 7 per cent of its budget to livestock development and the rest to crops and other secondary uses. It is because of such poorly designed projects that the poverty levels in Karamoja is still at 75 per cent.
Most development projects have flopped because of the wrong policy approach and thinking. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s, the British invited anthropologists to come and study these ‘wild people’. Projects resorted to the easier route - charity work, giving the Karimojong relief food, clothes and blankets. These interventions conditioned some Karimojong into dependency syndrome.
But when you apply participatory planning approaches, the people will you tell something else. In a 2002 poverty study by Oxfam, for instance, the people put veterinary services as their first priority. And this is an underlying solution to food insecurity.
The most important thing now is for MP Isabirye and like-minded people to first change their attitude towards the Karimojong and appreciate them as active and resilient people. Those begging on the streets of Kampala come from only three out of the 52 sub-counties in Karamoja and their story is for another day.
Secondly, appreciate their livelihood system that is suited to dry land areas and has stood the test of time, with mobility of livestock as a sustainable strategy to manage scattered water, pasture and salt licks especially when technological advancement is low, like now.
Then support pastoralism with both the right policies and funding. As Jeff Hill, director for policy at USAid once said, “Livestock provides more food security than growing crops in many arid and semi-arid areas. The food crisis in the Horn is essentially a livestock crisis.” “...and this vulnerability is a result of chronic under-investment.” (The Guardian, Friday, September 2, 2011).
Mr Kanyangareng is the Executive Director - Pastoralism & Poverty Frontiers. email@example.com