Story of Karamoja’s move towards transformation

Transformation. To many Ugandans, Karamoja is synonymous with cattle rustling. However, a visit to parts of the sub-region portrays a different picture, and tells of a people and an area under transformation.

Tuesday May 20 2014

UPDF soldiers construct a dam in Kaabong District.

UPDF soldiers construct a dam in Kaabong District. PHOTO BY STEPHEN ARIONG. 

By Michael agaba

Kaabong- At 18 years old, Moses Lotyong would pass for a Senior Five student, however, he stands tall among Primary Five pupils that he studies with at Panyangara Primary School in Kotido District, Karamoja sub-region.

According to Lotyong, he spent the better half of his childhood practicing cattle rustling, a feat that has for long been associated with people living in the districts of Kaboong, Moroto, Abim and Kotido, which make up the Karamoja sub-region.

Cattle rustling is an admired practice among the Karimojong, thus Lotyong could not resist its allure that in part determines a man’s bravery among his peers.

Lotyong started out as a young worrier, who together with his peers and some elders would raid neighbouring communities going as far as Kenya and Sudan.

However, when asked about his love for the practice, the 18-year old replies: “Not at all. Many of us [die] in raids.”
I lost a personal friend in 2005 after we had gone raiding in Moroto. He was shot dead,” says Lotyong rejecting any more questions about the experience.

Under similar circumstances Lotyong says he lost his father in 2006 in a gun battle with UPDF soldiers who, since 2001 have been in the area to fight cattle rustling.

Forced into school
With no one to depend on, Lotyong joined school after he was persuaded by his uncle, who himself was a former rustler.

“My uncle used to come home smartly dressed (a shirt and a pair of trousers). I used to admire him and when I lost my father to cattle raiding, he came and asked me to start going to school,” he says.

And to show how he is fairing, his teachers agree he has indeed been quick to catch up, his discomfort about studying with children that he doubles in terms of age notwithstanding.

“He used to fear other students but he has stabilised now and is one of the best in class,” says Mr David Punad, a teacher at Panyangara Primary School.

One among many
Lotyong’s story is one of several that are played out in the Karamoja sub-region where cattle rustling is not only admired but loathed in equal measure. At the height of cattle rustling acts including road ambushes, rape, murder and theft were played out large but with a number of several government initiatives, a lot has been achieved.

According to the UPDF 3rd Division spokesperson, Capt Jimmy Omara, the army has by far recovered more 310,000 illegal guns out of the estimated 400,000 guns at the hands of Karimojong rustlers.

Reduced cattle rustling has put the sub-region on a road to development through a number of initiatives by both government and donor agencies.

In the education sector, enrolment under the government’s universal education, according to the Kotido District education officer, Mr Ambrose Lotuke, has been growing since 2011 with more than 20,000 children joining primary school in the sub-region in 2014 alone.

Additionally, Mr Joseph Lomonyang, the Napak District chairperson, says government has done well to pacify Karamoja in terms of security and improving the road network in the region.

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