Peace Comes One Step at a Time in Karamoja
This past August, a conflict that seemed to one elderly woman of the Matheniko clan “like it would not end,” did just that. In September, the clans began to graze their cattle together, a remarkable turn of events considering the level of inter-clan cattle theft that had gone on in previous months. Jie and Matheniko now move freely across the border between each others’ territory, something that would have been unthinkable during the conflict. There is even talk of intermarriage.
The emergence of peace was anything but spontaneous. It was the result of months of negotiations and meetings within and between the two clans which culminated in a summit attended by 1,000 members of both clans in early August. The process was assisted by the International Rescue Committee’s Conflict Mediation and Mitigation program in Karamoja, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The peace between the Jie and the Matheniko is built on a foundation of IRC-sponsored activities involving all sectors of both communities. School children participated in essay competitions about peace. Women’s groups wrote and performed songs discouraging men from going on raids. Community elders implored younger clan members to consider the dangers of raiding for them and their families. Men, women, boys and girls were all involved in peace committees.
“Peace will last only if all members of the community have a stake in it,” said Mark Lokwii, an IRC community mobilizer in Matheniko County who acted as a mediator between clans and facilitated the recent meetings.Prospects for Peace
Peace between the Matheniko and the Jie is one step forward in the long journey towards peace throughout Karamoja. A dozen other conflicts which cost many lives and compromise livelihoods are still ongoing between clans in the region. These conflicts are fed by and in turn compound the challenges of living in a drought-prone region with few natural advantages. They take a heavy toll on health, school attendance and agricultural yields. The statistics of life in Karamoja are grim: HIV-infections have increased over 300 percent in the past decade, primary school attendance is 20 percent below the national average and crops fail at least five out of every six years.
The basis of the Karamojong people’s food consumption and economic life is cattle. Ownership of cattle is the basis of respect in society and young men wishing to marry must provide a number of cattle as an offering to the family of their potential brides. On some days, and especially during the dry season, the boys and young men who tend the herds will take only milk and blood from their cows as nutrition. The soil and climate will not support a full transition to agriculture and with no other industries to speak of in Karamoja, choosing another line of work isn’t an option.
Conflict between neighboring clans, such as the Jie and Matheniko, makes life dangerous and difficult. During such conflict fears about security limit the areas in which clan members graze their cattle. Karamoja receives little rain for most of the year, but during the brief rainy season top soil loosened by this intensified grazing washes away by the ton, stripping the land of its agricultural potential and scarring it with deep gullies.
“Having freedom of movement is important, not only for the land but for the mindset of people,” said Longole Guti Mark, manager of community dialogue programming in Moroto. “Not being able to graze their animals freely makes people feel trapped.”
A progressive deterioration of tribal authority in Karamoja plays a part in the continued violence. Even if the vast majority of a clan wishes and works for peace, they cannot control rogue clan members who, against the wishes of the rest of the clan, continue to raid. Elders may once have been able to restrain these members from raiding, but the introduction of the automatic rifles changed that dynamic. Disarmament efforts by the government have been clouded by corruption and human rights abuses coupled with serious questions about the effectiveness of disarmament operations in reducing overall levels of violence.
The project of peace-building in Karamoja is a long-term, multi-step process, with many factors preventing quick solutions.
“The environment is challenging, that is true,” said Lokiru Moses Sylvester, a community dialogue assistant based in Moroto. “But we do this because everything – education, health, safety – follows from peace.”
The Karamojong have never experienced lasting peace, but they know they want it. At a recent meeting of a peace committee in Rupa, ten kilometers outside of Moroto Town, the question was asked, “Can there be peace in all of Karamoja?”
The cry that went up from the crowd of men and women, boys and girls, was emphatically positive.