”These conflicts need to be proactively addressed” – continued peace building in the Karamoja regionIn the Karamoja region in the Northeastern Uganda, the Danish Refugee Council and the Danish Demining Group have for many years assisted the locals in armed violence reduction and conflict solution. The locals have seen a large effect of the projects – and ask for continued support in building cross border peace projects.
Under a tree shade, Moses Loumo, a Danish Refugee Council staff conducts a conflict management education training to provide alternative non-violent ways of managing conflicts at individual and community level.
”Conflict is like an onion,” went Mr Loumo while showing a group of elders, youth and women a picture of an onion and its different layers.
”You have to understand the different layers of a conflict to peacefully resolve it,” Loumo told his attentive audience whose hands regularly shot up to ask questions.
The arid and semi- arid Karamoja region in Northeastern Uganda, neighbours South Sudan to the north and Kenya to the east.
Karamoja has a history of severe droughts, small firearms, internal communal conflicts and cross border conflicts between the Karamojong on the Uganda side, the Turkana and Pokot on the Kenyan side and the Didinga & Toposa from South Sudan and Ethiopia respectively.
Improving relations between communities and security services providers
The Ugandan government has been conducting a disarmament exercise to remove firearms from private hands in Karamoja for the last two decades.
”You could not move on the roads before the disarmament,” said Lomer Peter Lobot, a local leader who works closely with Danish Refugee Council – Danish Demining Group (DRC-DDG) ”There were armed raids everywhere. People could not trade. People were killed.”
The disarmament was initially voluntary and peaceful, but from 2002 onwards Uganda’s security services began to forcefully disarm locals leading to a deterioration in relationships.
”The disarmament disrupted the relationship between the community and security providers” observed Jimmy Kokedieny, the DRC-DDG Base Manager in Moroto, one of the districts in the Karamoja region.
To contribute to addressing the challenge, DRC-DDG conducted 388 conflict management trainings for 8,956 youth, women, men and elders. In addition, 62 trainings on conflict management education for over 2,062 police and soldiers has been conducted. DRC-DDG also organized 285 meetings involving 15,000 community members, local authorities and security providers in Karamoja. The result of these activities has led to an improvement in relations between the community and the army and the police.
”The community has gained trust in us soldiers,” said Sergeant Stephen Ekwenyu, a Uganda security official who manages civil military relations, and is one of the beneficiaries of the DRC- DDG trainings.
”The trainings have enabled us to better understand and manage conflicts,” said Sergeant Ekwenyu. ”But there is still a need for continued training and sensitization of the community by DDG to make them forget the gun culture” he said.
Sand dams for dry days
Water for animals and home use in dry Karamoja can be a conflict trigger in heavily pastoralist Karamoja. Water harvesting technology like sand dams are vital in preserving water for use during drought.
Two herders stand at the sanddam in Rupa sub county in Moroto district. The dam can store water for up to four months during drought. Karamoja is a pastoralist community.
Sand dams are barriers constructed on a stream which flows with a lot of sand. The barrier retains the sand while allowing the water to flow. But the sand retains water up to 30% of its volume.
”In the days when the dam was not here all the water would flow away,” said herdsman Lokomol Nakwalule who had brought his cows, sheep and goats to water at the dam.
On the bank of the seasonal Matheniko river, just above the sand dam, Lucia of Kizop from the nearby village is pumping water from a borehole which draws its water from the sand dam.
”The borehole is near my home. I no longer walk long distances in search of water as it were in the past”.
During drought the sand dams can preserve water for a period of up to four months for animal and human use.
The three sand dams on the Matheniko river where herdsmen water their animals was constructed by DRC- DDG – and the boreholes on the bank of the river where locals get water for home use too was also built by DRC-DDG.
Dwindling funds to build on a solid foundation
DRC- DDG has been in five districts in the Karamoja since 2010, providing durable alternative livelihoods solutions, supporting building of public works, and addressing conflict and violence through community led campaigns. DRC-DDG has been operating in Karamoja with funding from the Australian based fund The Charitable Foundation (TCF), Astra Og Jul.P. Justesens Fond, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and DRC-DDG’s own funds.
Over the years, the organization has provided crucial support to communities, gained considerable understanding of the local context, and built a strong reputation among stakeholders. ”There is still a strong need for funding to diffuse emerging internal and cross border conflicts,” said Kokedieny, the Base Manager in Moroto. ”These conflicts need to be proactively addressed.”
”We are only 7-10kms away from the Kenya border,” noted Lokiru Sisto Dodoth, a security official from Moroto’s Tapac Sub county. ”In Uganda we are secure because of disarmament in Karamoja but in Kenya the Turkana and Pokot are still armed. There is still a need for DDG to continue offering support in building cross border peace.”