In 1976, there was a lot of tension when the then President of Uganda Idi Amin resumed his usual territorial claims. This time he wanted to reclaim Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces which were once parts of Uganda Protectorate.
Kenya under the late Mzee Kamau Kenyatta took him seriously and sent high powered delegations to the areas cautioning the people whether they would be part of Uganda which was suffering from scarcity of goods and services or not.
43 years later, Presidents; Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya are meeting today in Karamoja where the two governments are going to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for Cross – Border Integrated Programme for sustainable peace and socioeconomic transformation for the Karamoja cluster.
The MOU will be signed by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and the ASALS, Eugene Wamalwa, and Uganda’s Minister of State, Office of the Prime Minister, in charge of Karamoja Affairs, John Byabagambi.
A former Uganda President was once quoted as saying, “We shall not wait for Karamoja to develop.” Those words attributed to then Prime Minister, Apollo Milton Obote by the Uganda Gazette in 1963. Capture the simple reality yet powerful inequity of development in Uganda.
Obote, who later became President of Uganda in 1966 after deposing the first President, Sir Edward Muteesa ll, is said to have uttered the words after a visit to Karamoja, then the least-developed part of newly independent Uganda and decided the country had to move on.
Sir Edward Muteesa ll who also doubled as Kabaka of Buganda, is also remembered to have donated his annual salary as President to the development of the then Karamoja district. Idi Aminis remembered to have attempted to force the Karamajong to dress, but his soldiers did it crudely and the Karamajong complained against it in the commission of inquiry into the violation of human rights in Uganda from 1962 to 1986.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni went extra mile by setting up a ministry in-charge of Karamoja Affairs and when some politicians saw the portfolio as a demotion, he named his wife, The First Lady, Minister in charge of Karamoja, which promoted its profile. Karamoja is still one of the least-developed parts of Uganda but it is not clear whether the rest of the country is waiting for it or the other less developed areas.
President Museveni should be commended for his passionate struggle to develop Karamoja. The government has put many interventions to develop the region. As a matter of fact, when you visit Karamoja today, it’s not as usual.
The Karamoja cluster refers to the area of land that straddles the borders between Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. The region is inhabited by pastoralist communities from the Turkana and Pokot from Kenya, the Karamojong of Uganda, the Toposa from South-Sudan and the Daasanach and the Nyang’atom from south west Ethiopia. Most of the pastoralist communities classified under the cluster share the same socio-cultural as well as dialectic roots.
Pastoralism is the dominant socioeconomic activity and source of livelihood for most of the population. The area is highly vulnerable to climatic variations such as drought that renders communities perennially food-insecure and limits their livelihood options but government has initiated affirmative programmes for the people.
Climatic variations and related resource scarcities have led to frequent violent conflicts among the pastoralist communities, and often, with non-pastoral neighbours. These conflicts are exacerbated by ethnic rivalries, inadequate policing and influx of illicit arms from neighbouring countries. The insecurity further restricts access to resources, in so doing, threatening the livelihoods of communities already vulnerable to drought.
Although the Karamoja cluster covers South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, the current programme focuses on the Kenya-Uganda specifically Turkana, West Pokot (Kenya) and Karamoja (Uganda).
The Karimojong are part of the Karimojong Cluster of Nilotic tribes (also known as the Teso Cluster). The languages of the Jie and Dodoth are not quite the same as, but mutually intelligible with Karimojong. The ethnicity of the Ethur is not entirely certain, but they are regarded as essentially Nilotic (if mixed) and their language is regarded as a Luo dialect.
The Ik and Tepeth have their own languages, but these are under great pressure from the Karimojong language (Ŋakarimojong) around them. So by signing this MoU, the two countries will strengthen their co-existence.
The writer is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Center (GCIC), Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.
NOTE: This Article First Appeared on The Kampala Post