Karamoja cattle raids: 50 people killed in one year

Thursday April 22 2021
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Uganda People’s Defence Force soldiers at a protected kraal in Nakapelimoru Barracks in Kotido District. PHOTO | FRED WAMBEDE

By Isaac Otwii
By Bill Oketch

A seven-year-old Mark Dengel was killed after armed Karimojong cattle rustlers raided Nalemupal Village, Nadunget Parish in Moroto District, on April 2.

At least 1,000 head of cattle were looted during this raid.

His mother, Ms Keem Romana, survived the attack with injuries on her right arm while another unidentified person of the same village, sustained bullet injuries on the right leg.

Reports of armed warriors storming settlements have continued to increase with Moroto District being the epicentre.

The 3rd Division Uganda people’s Defence Forces (UPDF) spokesperson, Maj Peter Mugisha, told Daily Monitor that in the past 10 months, the raids have become more deadly.

Maj Mugisha said the rustlers usually storm villages at night, shooting people on sight before raiding animals.

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“There are three categories of people who die as a result of cattle rustling. They include the rustlers, civilians, and the UPDF. This number cannot be mentioned here. We are Ugandans and we don’t pride ourselves in killing,” he said in a telephone interview last week.

Maj Mugisha said since April 2020, more than 17,000 animals have been stolen.  

The army court has since prosecuted 506 people.

“We have recovered 158 guns with 2,743 bullets and thousands of bows and arrows. About 767 armed raiders have been arrested with 506 being tried in the 3rd Division Court Martial. Others have started serving their sentences while others are still on trial,” he said.

The army spokesperson said the warriors usually target animals kept away from the protected kraals.

“What we are doing right now is ensuring that we block all the known cattle corridors so that we prevent these warriors from crossing from one point to another,” he said.

Mr Mike Longole, the police spokesperson for Karamoja Sub-region, said an estimated 50 people have so far been killed during the cattle raids for the last one year.

Abim, Karenga and Katakwi districts have since been marked as the most vulnerable districts. 

Nabilatuk resolution

In 2017, a local peace committee and the council of elders sat in Moroto District and passed resolutions to curb cattle rustling in Karamoja.

The local communities reached an agreement that bars one community from stealing animals from another.  

However, where stolen animals are identified as exhibits in another community, that community would have to pay twice the number of animals.

The resolution helped in reducing cattle raids, however, Maj Mugisha said the peace initiative got corrupted and was aborted.

Maj Mugisha said some communities have not fully embraced the government intervention of the disarmament programme and still look at guns as a means of survival.

“And the other is commercialisation of cattle raids. These cattle rustlers normally collaborate with traders. For instance, animals stolen from Kaabong are normally driven to Napak or Nabilatuk where trucks wait to load them,” he said.

Maj Mugisha said the raiders use children to drive the stolen animals away while they exchange gunfire with the army.

“Some Karimojongs take cattle rustling as a culture or traditional custom. The essence is that they train these children into future warriors,” he added.

The army said stolen animals normally end up in the hands of traders who travel from Mbale, Pallisa and Soroti districts.

Mr Moses Kigai Wamoto, the Resident District Commissioner of Napak, said the raids and killings have reduced after mass sensitisation.

“What we did was to engage the elders, politicians and religious leaders in our meetings and within a short while, the message had reached everywhere. Right now the district is getting peaceful,” he said.

Mr Julius Lotyakatau Locheng, the Kotido District speaker, attributed the increasing cattle raids to poverty.

“A number of non-governmental organisations and districts are doing all it takes to sensitise the communities on the dangers of engaging in such acts because we are losing lives,” he said.

Operations

Mr Mike Longole, the police spokesperson for Karamoja Sub-region, said the police have intensified operations against the cattle rustlers. 

Mr Longole said 300 anti-stock theft unit personnel have been deployed to reinforce the territorial police.

“Enough personnel are in place now with armoured vehicles and logistics to carry out operations. We have intensified both foot and motorised patrols both in the inner and outer ring. In the outer ring, we stage ambushes and in the inner ring we employ motorised and foot patrols,” he said.

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