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Research Report

Crisis in Karamoja: Armed Violence and the Failure of Disarmament in Uganda’s Most Deprived Region

James Bevan
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2008
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 90

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-7)
  2. (pp. 8-10)
  3. (pp. 12-12)
  4. (pp. 13-14)
  5. (pp. 15-15)
  6. (pp. 16-18)
  7. (pp. 19-19)
  8. (pp. 20-23)

    The Karimojong share close ethno-linguistic ties with neighbouring peoples in north-western Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and adjacent regions of Sudan (see Map 2). The region as a whole, which straddles the borders between the four states, is often called the Karamoja Cluster. It is defined by the dominant mode of production practised by its people—pastoralism, or the use of rangeland for extensive livestock grazing by semi-² or wholly nomadic communities.

    Karamoja is only one part of the Karamoja Cluster, but it has attracted considerable public interest because of escalating levels of armed violence there. The Karimojong population of northern Uganda...

  9. (pp. 24-33)

    The following brief typology of armed violence in Karamoja attempts to explain why violence has evolved from traditional raiding practices into new forms of economically motivated crime and general lawlessness. It suggests that, while cattle raiding remains the predominant characteristic of violence in the region, contemporary raids should not necessarily be understood as a simple evolution of historical practices. Armed violence in Karamoja is not solely a product of the pastoral system, but rather the result of malfunctions that have been induced by external shocks, such as diminished access to rangeland and commensurate breakdowns in resource-sharing agreements. These factors have...

  10. (pp. 34-46)

    The same factors that make Karamoja difficult to police also impair accurate assessments of the impact of armed violence. Many communities operate far from urban areas, where—albeit limited—reporting mechanisms exist. For these reasons, the Small Arms Survey employed a set of methodologies that was designed to give a first impression of the scale of impacts derived from armed violence. These included household surveys, focus groups, interviews, and evidence from previous public health studies.

    The following sections briefly sketch some of the most notable impacts in terms of broad currents of insecurity and more specific effects. The latter can...

  11. (pp. 47-53)

    In any one region of Karamoja, there are numerous armed actors. They include the military and LDUs, the police and local auxiliary police, former security forces personnel, local politicians and counsellors, a limited number of civilians,39 and pastoral warriors. The vast majority of these actors are armed with assault rifles.

    Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles are the most prevalent types of weapon circulating in Karamoja. Weapons of this type are used by both state and non-state actors.

    These weapons employ the 7.62 x 39 mm Warsaw Pact standard cartridge, which is prevalent across the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions. Ammunition...

  12. (pp. 54-60)

    Numerous government-led disarmament initiatives of varying scale have been launched in Karamoja, including in the years 1945, 1953, 1954, 1960, 1964, 1984, 1987, and 2001.59 Another disarmament initiative was launched by the UPDF in the first half of 2006 and was ongoing at the end of 2007. None of these initiatives has proved effective in reducing armed violence in the region. In fact, the most recent disarmament initiatives appear to have had an escalatory effect on violence.

    The 2001 initiative is highly relevant to the reaction of the Karimojong to the most recent (2006–07) disarmament attempts. The programme was...

  13. (pp. 61-67)

    Prospects for disarmament in the near future have undoubtedly been set back by the conduct of the military in the most recent initiatives. People are not only openly opposed to it, but have taken precautions to hide their weapons. Moreover, with tensions growing between the Karimojong and the army, it is highly plausible that people are doing what they usually do when faced with a threat—arming themselves to a greater extent. It appears very unlikely that any future disarmament initiative can prove successful without adequate measures in place to improve the security of Karimojong communities. This means stopping the...

  14. (pp. 68-77)

    In 2001, the Government of Uganda launched a fresh disarmament initiative in Karamoja. The first, short phase of the initiative (December 2001–January 2002) was voluntary and was accompanied by a presidential campaign to sensitize the Karamojong about the aims and components of the initiative. Despite grave flaws, this strategy was heralded as successful. It encouraged further investment of time and resources in developing comprehensive approaches to disarmament, culminating in the 2005 Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Plan (KIDDP). However, the forcible disarmament component of the 2001–02 initiatives engendered widespread hostility to disarmament in Karamoja.

    The reaction should have...

  15. (pp. 78-79)

    One conclusion to be drawn from the case of Karamoja and its many failed disarmament initiatives is that disarmament without alternative security provision is untenable. Forcible disarmament may be a necessary last resort in cases where the minority hold weapons and threaten to spoil an emerging peace. But in cases where the majority of communities are armed, and that majority enjoys no security other than by virtue of being armed, disarmament can become a highly destabilizing factor—one that escalates armed violence.

    Faced with the fact that the Government of Uganda does not have the capacity to disarm warring groups...

  16. (pp. 80-81)

    Without a structured plan for increasing community security in Karamoja, there is very little prospect for effectively disarming pastoral groups in the near future. While the current use of the UPDF to disarm the Karimojong continues, tensions are likely to remain high between civilians and the army. The prospect of larger-scale conflict breaking out is very real. As a result, small arms are likely to continue to play a primary role for communities that seek to protect themselves from a host of threats.

    Past initiatives clearly demonstrate that pure disarmament cannot come before the provision of adequate security by the...

  17. (pp. 82-87)
  18. (pp. 88-90)