For decades, extreme poverty, hard to reach, hostility, high illiteracy rates and political instability gripped people’s imaginations every time Karamoja subregion in North eastern Uganda was mentioned. However, the perception is gradually changing courtesy of government’s deliberate efforts to enhance production and productivity of the area.
SoftPower News‘ reporter, Kungu Al-mahadi Adam visited Karamoja to report from the ground. The good roads, political stability, poverty alleviation programmes, hospitality of the locals and the extended hydroelectricity, all breath hope in the life of the local communities and shine a light on their future.
People living in the area used to have unregistered firearms for decades before and a few years after President Yoweri Museveni captured power in 1986. There was literally no order in the subregion as people would attack and kill each other for among other reasons, cattle rustling as a way of making a living.
When he ensued power, President Yoweri Museveni put restoration of peace in the area as a priority for the development. As such, Government engaged in disarmament efforts since the early 2000s to collect the unregistered firearms in the region, something the previous governments didn’t concentrate on, which perhaps explains why the subregion lagged behind.
The move to disarm the locals was aimed at restorating peace and order by helping different communities realize the human value in them regardless of their tribes.
John Robert Adiama, the former RDC of Amudat district, regards the disarmament process as a success and that people in Karamoja now cherish and embrace its fruits.
“They realized that the gun was finishing them. When the President told them that they should return the guns to government, they positively took it up, save for a few criminals who are still there just like in any other part of the World. The general situation here is that the guns which used to destroy human life were put to silence,” Adiama says.
As part of the peace building strategy in a community which has suffered fragility, government would immediately embarked on social-economic reconstruction through developing infrastructure, human capital and putting in place social-economic development related activities and programs like the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), Youth Livelihood Program (YLP), Operation Wealth Creation, Emyooga, all meant to help the ordinary people access capital to enhance production and productivity.
Hydroelectricity has been extended even as far as Amudat district which is bordered by Kenya to the east and 250 miles from Kampala. The youth are currently taking advantage of the electricity to engage in artisanship in their respective areas with many, owning and managing hotels, engaging welding and other activities.
Throughout Karamoja, many world-class tarmac roads have been constructed. Also, many marram feeder roads which never existed are now seen in the area although they need improvement. The roads have enabled access to all corners of the region, markets and neighbouring areas easy. It took our reporter only four hours to travel from Kampala to the region by road.
Due to the existing peace and good transport network, animal trade is another lucrative economic activity in Karamoja today and indeed in many parts of region, several trucks are seen carrying animals for beef transporting them to Mbale, Kampala and neighbouring Kenya and Sudan – the area is now open to local, national and international trade.
According to Adiama, there is need for continuous sensitization towards mindset change of the locals as well as extending practicals skills like welding, tailoring, modern animal rearing methods, etc.
In fact, in areas like Roro subcounty in Amudat district, small maize, banana, cabbage farms are visible and in other parts, locals are involving in burning charcoal as alternative income generating ventures. This, according to Adiama, is a great innovation and if given more support, it will help in diversification of the economy for the locals who were previously rocked in cattle rearing.
Before the restoration of political stability in the region, there was no opportunity for children to go to school which partly explains why the region’s overall literacy rate is under 25%, compared to a national average of 68%, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
However, today, many children are in school and specifically for Amudat district, there are currently 20 government aided primary schools compared to 11 before 2019.
There is much anticipation that the schools will greatly change the lives of the people in the next couple of years.
“Once the children are taken to school, eventually they will go to higher education levels like vocational institutions and in the long run, they will be competitive like their counterparts in other parts of country,” notes Adiama.
Meanwhile, despite the positives registered, Karamoja being a livestock corridor, is still faced with challenges which emanate from management of the economics around live stock, water shortages, limited industrial activities although they are picking up and low levels of livelihood as a result of illiteracy and limited social economic activities.
Being a semi-arid area, Adiama says, the water shortage problem can be reduced by increasing on the water collecting points like valley dams and tanks to aid continuity in profitable animal rearing.
He believes President Yoweri Museveni will consolidate on the important achievements in the area during the 2021-2026 term, to push the communities to sustainability.
He says, “We are looking towards at the community moving to improved and sustained house income generation, taking advantage of the political environment which is conducive as a result of good leadership by the President.”