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HomeOPINIONS AND COLUMNSOn Whether Gen Salim Saleh's Camping At Morulinga State Lodge Can End...

On Whether Gen Salim Saleh’s Camping At Morulinga State Lodge Can End The Karamoja Problem

By Steven Ariong

Everyone in this country would wish to see Karamoja region become peaceful like any other region. The current conflicts in the region has made several people to play their part trying to create change in the region.

Currently the brother to President Museveni Gen.Salem Saleh has camped in Karamoja for one month, meeting district leaders, right from Kraal leaders, former members of Parliament, former LCV chairpersons, religious leaders, production officials of Karamoja districts, security officers across the region to forge ways of changing the mindset of the  Karamojongs.

However, all the people that Salim Saleh has met do not have  powers any more to influence the remaining raiders to stop criminality, a reason as to why armed raiders have continued carrying out their mission despite meetings going on with Gen Salem Saleh in the region.

Gen.Saleh also doesn’t know that some of the leaders he has met only condemns criminality verbally but not practically.

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It should also be noted that most  leaders in the elective positions in the region win election just because they support criminals  and whatever they talk in any meeting about criminality, they don’t go and deliver the same message to the real criminals still hiding with guns.

This website has ever interacted with some of the leaders who have since meeting Gen Salim Saleh at Presidential state lodge in Morulinga in Napak, but some of them dont recall what they discussed with the General apart from boosting of signing huge allowances.

This leaves a question of whether the presence of Gen Saleh in Karamoja will create some impact towards ending insecurity in Karamoja and the ever growing gun appetite among the Karimojong pastoralists who have tested the sweetness of a gun even before NRM took over power.

This website has also learnt that, as long as the leaders in the region don’t come out and practically fight criminality in Karamoja, the region will always be confined in the realms of crime and insecurity.

Let’s briefly trace the history of Karamoja’s conflicts. The Karimojong started exercising aggressiveness in 1894 when the region remained un-administered by the British for long because the semi-arid conditions in the region were not attractive for the production for cash crops like cotton and coffee to service the industries in England.

During that time Karamoja, however, offered significant opportunity for trade in ivory and slaves by Arab, Greek but mainly Abyssinian (Ethiopia) and Swahili traders. As the number of elephants in the region reduced, the value of ivory increased and traders increasingly offered to exchange firearms for ivory.

Modern arms were exchanged for ivory and slaves, which ignited a weapons proliferation in the region.

The arms eased the process of acquiring stock by the Karimojong who began raiding and this was believed that some of the traders were involved in some of these raids in order to appease the Karimojong, thereby increasing the scale and intensity of the raids.

Although the protectorate government believed that both the human and economic cost
of administering Karamoja region was too high, a decision was made to conquer Karamoja because in the military terms, the British could nolonger ignore Karamoja, lest they loose it to traders.

In 1911, the protectorate Government decided to close the district to all traders allowing only one opening at Mbale in the eastern Uganda and with just occasional patrols in the area. The traders were blamed for the lawlessness in Karamoja.

By 1912, a permanent Northern Barracks was established to undertake the pacification of Karamoja. This was achieved by shooting people, burning their huts and seizing livestock.

In that time the Karimojong acquired many guns through ivory trade and  these guns that they acquired from Arabs and Abyssinian traders were supplemented by locally made guns which were used not only for defense purpose but also for raiding.

The turning point in armament in Karamoja was in 1979 after the overthrow of the Idi Amin regime.

The Karimojong broke into 2nd battalion barracks in Moroto after it was abandoned and helped them selves and took unspecified amount of arms and manumissions. This development ushered in anew dimension in the politics of Karamoja, Massive armament in the region sparked off a series of unprecedented cattle raids that continued.

As a result of this new military might, the Karimojong turned their guns not only at each other but also to neighbors since then the demand for guns went up steadily and the region provided market to the arms and ammunitions from the conflicts in Uganda, Southern Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The estimates put the number of guns in Karamoja between 30,000 and 40,000.

Those guns made Karamoja to be a no go area making it difficult for the people to access the region and few people dared to go to the semi-arid region.

Action taken.

That conflict forced President Museveni to pitch camp at Morulinga in Napak district spearheading a political mobilization initiative involving government and local officials and leaders from Karamoja, who eventually traversed the entire region from county to county
sensitizing the Karimojong about the essence of the exercise and persuading them to hand in their guns .

However, not all the local leaders in the region supported the disarmament exercise because they were also benefiting from the activity. The silent resistance by some leaders against the launch of disarmament exercise in Karamoja delayed the exercise.

The first phase of the disarmament exercise comprised a voluntarily disarmament which was carried out between December 2001 and January 2002 but it didn’t yield good results since the armed Karimojong refused to give out the guns and become more aggressive to the army because they were being supported by some few leaders in the region.

After noting that the Karimojong were resisting from giving out guns, the president issued a circular addressed to political leaders and the military in the region outlining the guidelines for the disarmament exercise phase two.

The circular outlined the government commitment to
the following: Increasing the quantity and quality of the police, intelligence and local defense units (LDUs) to guarantee better protection to the people in the region, Establishing permanent barracks along the Kenya and South Sudan borders, Constructing a security road along the border from Namalu in Nakapiripirit district moving northwards to cover Kenya and Sudan border, Recruiting and training of 146 vigilantes per sub county inside Karamoja and 292 vigilantes per sub county bordering Kenya and Sudan to be armed and paid salaries by government and under the command of the army, their mission was to guard against inter clan raids.

After this circular was received by all leaders in the region, government officials engaged kraal leaders, radio programs were rolled out telling the public the dangers of possession of illegal weapons but still a clique of leaders were against the exercise.

On 15th of February 2002 second phase of disarmament exercise was launched and it was largely a military -led exercise with the following components.

Shooting on site person found with a gun along the roads, Cordoning and searching suspected villages and kraals, Arresting and prosecuting suspected criminals, Curbing of cattle raids and strengthening recovery of livestock, patrolling the international borders with Sudan and Kenya, Recruiting the remaining quota of vigilantes per sub county.

In this second  phase of disarmament that’s the time military intelligence realized that some leaders were demobilizing the Karimojong not to hand over their guns and those leaders were arrested and beaten, this yielded good results  in disarmament and by the end of 2003, 10,000 guns were recovered from the Karimojong.

The army continued recovering the guns until date when the region has achieved
peace.

Peter Lomongin one of the reformed cattle rustlers told this website that the people that Gen Saleh has been meeting will never create any impact towards achieving peace until he meets the raiders themselves.

“What Afande Salim Saleh is doing is just treating sickness without diagnosis, how I wish he did some diagnosis on really what’s the cause of insecurity in Karamoja, he would be making decisions basing on that”-Lomongin advised

Joel Moding a student at Makerere  University pursuing degree in conflict resolution says although the government has deployed enough personnel in Karamoja but they will be facing a big challenge of weeding out the problem of Karamoja.

“Until government accepts to sit down and do a thorough research on the level of gun appetite in the hearts of Karamoja and deal with it, the region will continue facing the same challenge”- Moding noted

According to Mudong, the laxity of government to wipe out criminality in Karamoja is of the fact that the Karimojong are not fighting for the change of government adding that if that was the route, that the Karimojong were using, by now Karamoja would be free of guns.

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