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.
Through the Karamoja Development Agency created in 1987 under the Office of the Prime Minister, government continues to transform the region.
Other programme, including Naads and Nusaf, have, according to the Amudat District RDC, Mr Stephen Nsubuga Bewayo, been handy in terms of improving the livelihood of Karimojong and the sub-region’s image.
In addition to Nusaf, the government launched the Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Programme, which seeks to secure the life and properties of Karimojong.
Another initiative Karamoja Action Plan for Food Security was launched to reduce food security as well as improve people’s livelihood in the sub-region.
The region has also been connected to the national power grid and 98 kilometer roads in the region have either been tarmacked or upgraded to murrum.
However, a number of challenges continue to bedevil development initiatives in the region.
According to the Uganda Household Survey 2011, Infant Mortality Rate in the region continues to be high standing 87:1,000 compared to the country’s total of 47:1,000 children,
More than 58.1 per cent of the region’s female population has not had any formal education compared to 45 per cent of men. Only 37.2 per cent have completed primary education.
Tit bits on karamoja
Climate. The Karamoja sub-region is characterised by a low rainfall pattern and low soil fertility. The region has only one rainy season and a single planting season. This is explains the need for dams that are used for both household and farming functions.
Mineral resources. A 2011 survey by the government department of geological survey and mines at the Ministry of Energy found that Karamoja is endowed with a number of mineral resources including gold, limestone, uranium, marble, graphite, gypsum, iron, wolfram, nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium and tin.
Government support. The region faces a number of challenges including famine. However, the government and other development partners under the emergency food relief programme provide food items to a population of about 970,000, among who 234,000 are children. Others under the fold include pregnant and lactating mother and the elderly. The programme also provides de-worming tablets, nutrition education, awareness and sensitisation on hygiene and sanitation as well as capacity building and community development.
Recovery efforts. Government’s recovery efforts in the region have attracted other joint initiatives such as the European Union, British government and other NGOs.
KARAMOJA ON THE RIGHT PATH, SAY INFORMATION MINISTER
According to the Minister of Information and National Guidance, Ms Rose Namayanja, many government programmes currently taking place in Karamoja are testimony of government’s commitment to improve standards of living in the sub-region. “People who criticise government on Karamoja are the uninformed. Anyone who visited Karamoja before 2001 is able to tell the difference with the Karamoja of then and the one of today,” she says.
“The roads, schools and hospitals provide enough evidence to show how government resources have been used to improve the sub-region. The dryness in the area has been fluented by dams that have been constructed across the region,” she adds.
However, she notes government has encountered a lot of challenges but different programmes have been drafted to counter the challenges.
Recently, she says Karamoja was connected to the national grid and for the first time since independence, Moroto and Abim districts are now connected to electricity.
In addition, she says, the sub-region’s tarmac stretch has grown from only 2.5 kilometres to more than 98 kilometres with the current construction of the Moroto-Nakapiripirit-Muyembe road. The minister, however, challenges local leaders and government representatives to understanding and attend to the concerns of the people under local government programmes.
She urges them to market government programmes, as well as acting as a bridge between government and the general public.