Rustlers resume cattle raids in Karamoja, 10 years later

Wednesday July 08 2020

Affected. UPDF soldiers at Nakapelimoru Barracks in Kotido District, where more than 7,000 head of cattle are monitored at a protected kraal due to cattle theft. PHOTO/ FRED WAMBEDE

Having brewed and sold lodirit (a common local alcoholic brew), Ms Jane Akol used the profits to restock the cattle her family had lost to rustlers 15 years ago.
In March, Ms Akol’s family kraal had more than 150 head of cattle, a handful of goats and sheep, but in June everything went amok after the rustlers attacked again.
“They raided our kraal at night and took off with most of our cows. The pain is deep because cattle in our culture is everything,” Ms Akol, a resident of Kalekori Village in Kotido District, says.

Mr Kalisto Lowing, a resident of Nakapelimoru Sub-county, who also lost all his cows to rustlers, says the current cattle raids trigger the vivid, violent past bad memories.
“But this time, we are not armed and yet the thieves are,” he says.
Namoi Naboko, 16, son of Mr Lowing, who was guarding the kraal with his siblings the night of the attack says they watched helplessly as their animals were being taken.

“Two of them put us under gunpoint as the rest opened the family kraal and they took away our animals,” Naboko says.
Mr John Chilla, the Nakapelimoru Sub-county chairperson, says effects of cattle rustling on economic development are enormous.
“Our livestock is where we derive our livelihoods. It is the means of production, food and wealth,” Mr Chilla says.

Mr Chilla, armed with water coolant and a stick, says for more than 10 years following the disarmament programme, there has been economic progress.
Government carried out the disarmament in Karamoja between 2001 and 2010. More than 40,000 illegal arms were recovered from locals, bringing to an end the armed cattle raids until last year.
Locals say renewed cattle raids among different ethnic groups are likely to reverse the current economic growth.

Road network in the sub-region has greatly improved especially with the construction of Soroti – Moroto road, which is nearly complete.
The levels of food security have also improved in the past 10 year as residents embraced farming.
Mr Simon Peter Longoli, the executive director of Karamoja Development Forum (KDF), says the region has been on the right track with more locals engaging in agro-pastoralism.

“But with the resurgence of cattle theft, it is having an impact on the economic cost. If a community losses about 5,000 head of cattle, it means they have lost about Shs5 billion,” he says.
Mr Longoli explains that a raid by cattle rustlers from one district to another, triggers revenge.
“And this has been the case since the first incident in September last year,” he says.


Daily Monitor learnt that locals have now gone on a rampage to re-arm themselves in order to protect their kraals from the raiders and others are keeping their cattle in protected kraals manned by UPDF soldiers.
Our investigations also found out that different ethnic groups have also formed alliances and raid each other for either economic or social gain.
The common ethnic groups in Karamoja Sub-region include Matheniko (Moroto), Bokora (Napak), Dodoth (Kaabong), Jie (Kotido), Labwor (Abim), Pokot (Amudat) and Pian (Nakapiripirit).

The cattle raids started in September, last year, after suspected cattle rustlers from Kotido raided a kraal in Kobebe in Moroto, stealing 85 cows.
Last Thursday, about 500 armed cattle rustlers from the districts of Moroto, Kotido and Napak raided their counterparts in Kaabong District, stealing about 800 cows.

However, UPDF using a military aircraft intervened and intercepted the rustlers at the Turkana border where 12 guns and stolen animals were recovered.
Ms Prisca Nakiru, the Rupa Sub-county vice chairperson, in Moroto District, says several people, including women and children have been killed in the incidents of cattle raids in her area.

“We have so far lost about 5,000 cows to the raiders and many lives. I can say several lives have been lost. This is too much,” she says.
The UPDF 3rd Division spokesperson, Maj Peter Mugisa, says the ethnic groups engaging in cattle raids are being armed by their counterparts in the neighbouring countries.

Maj Mugisa says the Turkana of Kenya arm the Matheniko of Moroto, the Pokot of Kenya arm the Pokot of Uganda and Toposa of South Sudan arm the Jie of Kotido.
“This is fuelling the raid but as UPDF, we have intensified the operations to get rid of illegal arms and cattle theft,” he reveals.

He adds that they are carrying out operations in different forms including cordon and search, mobile force and civil military techniques, which involves sensitising the locals on the need to voluntarily hand over the guns in their possessions.

Since January, Maj Mugisa says the UPDF has recovered 68 guns, 195 cattle rustlers have been killed and 293 arrested.
He says some of the guns being used to raid kraals are those that the warriors never handed over during the disarmament exercise.

However, some residents claim that ringleaders of the cattle raids hire guns from the Local Defence Unit personnel (LDUs).
“The LDUs are misusing their weapons by hiring them out to the rustlers,” Mr James Adupa, a resident of Lokitelaekuam village in Rupa Sub-county in Moroto District, claimed.

Mr Adupe made the remarks during a community meeting at Lokitelaekuam Village in Rupa Sub-county, Moroto.
Mr Dupe says they wonder how the rustlers manage to go scot-free with their cows yet the army has military units in almost every sub-county.
“We are forced to believe that some army officers connive with the criminals to steal our cows,” he says.

Residents accuse UPDF
During the meeting, residents claimed that the UPDF sometimes never return all animals recovered.
But Maj Mugisa denied the allegations saying all stolen and recovered animals are returned to the owners.
The Moroto Woman Member of Parliament, Ms Stella Atyang, has urged the armed local herdsmen to hand in the guns.

“We should not allow the return of guns. If anyone has a gun, they should hand it in voluntarily either to the army or give it to elders,” she says.
Ms Atyanga, however, attributes the current raids to commercialisation of cattle in the region.
The Kotido Municipality MP, Mr Peter Abraham Lokii, blames the UPDF for delaying to respond whenever there is a cattle raid in the region.

Government carried out the disarmament in Karamoja between 2001 and 2010. More than 40,000 illegal arms were recovered from locals, bringing to an end the armed cattle raids until last year.