Who will Save Karamoja?

It may be daring to go to Karamoja for the very first time on hearing about car ambushes, cattle rustling, severe hunger, diseases and floods. But its also good to know and evaluate the status of your own country. Similary, it’s irritating to hear about the negative side of Karamoja for years despite the longevity of intervention of Non-Governmental Organizations both local and international. Does this mean they are doing a lot of work or are they simply enjoying the place?

Talking about development, the phenomenon is gradual. But for Karamoja, it’s more than gradual. I have been visiting since 2008, and each year all i see is a poor atittude towards issues, poverty, poor quality education (Nakapiripirit being the worst performer), early school dropouts and marriages, drought, hunger, conflicts, over dependence on food aid, poor road network, inaccessibility of health services, and stinking corruption.

Seeking to see a district official is quite enough pain especially Nakapiripirit district, as the officials there have only two working days in a week. They leave on Friday and only return on Tuesday evening.

Next year, from interactions i gathered reveal that primary school children will not be able to study simply because the World Food Program has halted food supply on the orders of the Karamoja Affairs ministry. The interactions vindicate that the ministry headed by Hon. Janet Musveni wants the Karamojong to stop depending on food aid and embark on sustainable activities like agriculture. While there i witnessed a small number of women selling sweet potatoes in a market.

A schoolboy in Nakapiripirit district. School boys like this will not study any more
Women selling sweet potatoes in Namalu, Nakapiripirit district. Growing food crops like sweet potatoes has been a rare thing in Karamoja, but it's slowly picking

From a learning perspective culturally, marrying a woman from this region no easy joke for cattle has been the norm since time immemorial, for decades now. One needs 100 heads of cows to  qualify, hence the cattle rustling. Besides, they believe that no body owns cows, they belong to the community.  Though today you find a rare case of less than 100, it’s a pre-requisite. The “benefits” of that are; you are given 11 cows from each daughter who gets married from the family you married.

Cattle grazing in Namalu, Nakapiripirit

This region seems to be moving on its own pace, on the expense of it’s few literate leaders who are taking advantage of ignorance, in Karamoja. For the literate , cattle theft if i may put, has been transformed into corruption of government resources. There is stinking and looming corruption in this region, probably the worst in Uganda. Recently early this year, when auditors stormed the region for inappropriate expenditures, there seemed to be some relief as some officials could not account for lost monies of the National Agriculture Advisory Services( NAADS), and Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF). Several officials were locked up in the gallows, but four days after the auditing team left, they were seen roaming in villages again.

One of the “few developments” taking place is the installation of electricity lines in a distance of about 60 miles. The electrification is a donation by a Chinese company, called Chinese Petroleum Communication Company. The electrification program is for Nakapiripirt district from Ngenge near sebei to Amudat district through Nakapiripirit which should start being used by end of December. To me, electricity in karamoja is inappropriate because a biggest population lives in grass thatched houses, and cannot afford the expenses. Karamojongs need a turmacked road from Sironko to Nakapiripirit district. During the rainy season, this road is a menace, as cars get stuck, spend days and nights there.

A broken road in Nabilatuk

The women in this region are not spared at all it terms of work load, domestic  violence, and as such they construct the houses, look for the food, fetch firewood, collect water while the men only sleep under trees and look after cattle. The women at the end of the day trek for miles for health services like during child birth.

A big portion of Karamoja is a desert inspite of the Nilotic characteristic and making it hard for food growing; save for districts like Nakapiripirit which should be food baskets to the entire Karamoja region. This is because it gets frequent rainfall because of the surrounding mountains and hills in neighboring Kapchorwa, and Bugisu. It’s evidently seen, even the soil is good for farming. But one thing is, the environment which should be favorable for food produce and tree plantation, is now being destroyed in turn for charcoal. Karamoja naturally does not have forests, but comprises small thorn trees which are now being destroyed. If this continues, probably the entire region will be a desert.

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