Disruption of Karimojong Pastoralists’ Lives

This analysis is authored on the premise that there is a need to examine how historical factors, cultural factors, social institutions – formal policies, informal beliefs and traditions – have facilitated or not the ability of Karimojong to produce their own food; to earn and afford food; while enjoying their chosen way of life as semi-nomadic pastoralists.

Case in point, the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), prioritising interests for extracting minerals from under Karamoja’s land, in Kautokou, is just but one of many examples of how so-called ‘development’ is disrupting the lives of Karimojong pastoralists. Specifically, from the point of view that:

“The issue of the land of Kautokou is a result of deceit like of you the educated.”

Karimojong Elder

Interestingly, the Karimojong Elder was quoted in a publication by Emmanuel Tebanyang, Nathan Lowanyang and Maria Svindseth, titled: “Take Anything, Leave our Land” and that was published by Karamoja Development Forum.

Yes, Karimojong communities that are affected are protesting UIA’s acquisition of 10 acres of their land in Kautokou. UIA, reportedly, acquired the land for the purpose of establishing an industrial and business park; a park believed to be primarily for the benefit of external investors in the minerals sector.

The affected Karimojong communities claim that the manner in which UIA acquired the land did not sufficiently fulfill all the requisite legal requirements for acquisition of that particular land.

Apparently, the irregular manner in which UIA acquired Karimojong land is the norm in Karamoja, as have been other purchases that have been made by government and by other ‘investors’ as well.

They (elite Karimojong) sell the land to investors without consulting residents. Land in Karamoja is communal – if anybody wants to buy it, they must consult elders but not grab it.”

Karimojong Elder

The Karimojong Elder was quoted by Steven Ariong in his story titled: “Karimojong Protest Land Grabbing,” that was published in the Daily Monitor.

UIA, reportedly, purchased the land from Peter Amodoi Ayopo, a Karimojong, who at the time was working as a Commissioner in the Office of the Prime Minister. According to UIA Ayopo provided them with a legitimate freehold title indicating that he was the owner of the land; and on that basis UIA went ahead and bought the land from him.

Whereas, UIA has clarified that it did not grab the land, the tone of its response raises doubt as to whether, as a government institution, they are on the side of the communities from whom the land was allegedly ‘grabbed’; or they are on the side of the individual who allegedly ‘grabbed’ the land.

The Constitution of Uganda – Article 237, sub-section 3, provides that land in Uganda shall be owned in accordance with the following land tenure systems:

  • a) customary
  • b) freehold
  • c) mailo
  • d) leasehold

“All Ugandan citizens owning land under customary tenure may acquire certificates of ownership in a manner prescribed by parliament; and land under customary tenure may be converted to freehold land ownership by registration.”

Constitution of Republic of Uganda, Article 237, sub-section 4

Now, it is common knowledge in Uganda that nearly all community owned land in Karamoja is under communal customary tenure. This, therefore, means that a buyer, such as UIA, when presented with a land title that suggests that land in Karamoja is under freehold tenure, needs to rigorously crosscheck such a claim.

This is especially important to do for a land title freshly and recently acquired. The buyer, in this case, UIA, had the responsibility to carryout due diligence to establish the manner in which the land changed from customary tenure and to be held under freehold and leasehold tenure.

And, even though, UIA eventually did its due diligence, but it ended up purchasing land that was fraudulently acquired by Ayopo, then UIA needs to have taken up the matter with the Uganda Land Board, which issued the title to Ayopo; or it needs to insist that Ayopo pays it back its money for misrepresenting himself as the legitimate owner.

In any case, if it were conclusively proven that Ayopo acquired the land fraudulently, through deceit, then there was no meeting of the minds between Ayopo and the legitimate owners of the land. It means that if Ayopo fraudulently acquired the land he sold to UIA, then UIA’s acquisition of the land is automatically nullified.

It is important to appreciate that Uganda’s customary tenure, in its ideal form, is consistent with land ownership in the ‘traditional African sense’, in which land is a resource to which people have use-rights.

Land ownership in the ‘traditional African sense’ combines land tenure elements of ‘customary’ and of ‘simple market’ societies. It disallows unconditional individual ownership; while, by allocation or by rent, but not by sale, accesses land use to individuals, in accord with a community authority.

  • Why is government, through UIA, seemingly insisting on disenfranchising the legitimate land owners of the Kautokou land?
  • Why is the government not going after Ayopo and or the concerned officials in the Uganda Land Board?
  • Is there abuse of office, therefore, corruption in the handling of this case by Ayopo, officials in UIA, and officials in the Uganda Land Board?
  • Where did Ayopo get the money to pay for the land?
  • How much did he pay for the land?
  • To whom did he pay the money?
  • What proof of ownership did he present to the Uganda Land Board that enabled him to convert the land from customary tenure to freehold?

Considering the protestations of Karimojong, these questions beg answers. And, more so, since, the purpose for which UIA acquired the land is seemingly for the benefit of others non-Karimojong.

  • How is the industrial and business park of benefit to Karimojong, while they enjoy their semi-nomadic pastoralists way of life?
  • Should it not be the role of UIA to as well promote investments related to animal production and value addition in animal by-products?
  • For example, is there room, within the UIA Karamoja Industrial and Business Park, for the return of a type of “Cattle Factory” similar to the one that was established in 1958 in Karamoja, which, reportedly, used the labour of inmates to produce beef products for the army and then was moved to Soroti after independence?

The suggestion of a type of “cattle factory”, as an example, it should be clarified, would be the kind that would ensure that Karamoja’s cattle economy is at the centre of it. Karimojong as part of or even the full owners of the investment.

It would mean that Karimojong semi-nomadic pastoralists would be the major suppliers of animals and animal by products to such a factory. It would mean that Karimojong are the workers in the factory and therefore Karimojong households are the primary beneficiaries.

In this way the investment would better bring economic benefits to Karamoja, while not disrupting and disenfranchising the Karimojong of their social and cultural rights. This is not the case with the proposed ‘development’ intervention by the government, through UIA.

On the face of it, it seems that the the proposed industrial and business park would, instead, deepen poverty for Karimojong. It would likely bring about the kind of poverty defined as:

“Un-freedoms of various sorts: the lack of freedom to achieve even minimally satisfactory living conditions.”

Amartya Sen

The acquisition or grabbing of land by UIA, indeed, exemplifies how government interventions in Karamoja promote poverty of un-freedoms. A status quo which leads to a vicious cycle of poverty, including that of the kind defined in the classic view of poverty as shortage of income.

Government, in fact, may have set a precedent that may propagate a perception that minerals extracted from Karamoja are “blood minerals” or “conflict resources”

  • Who are the companies, individuals, ‘investors’, who are targeted to benefit from the establishment of the UIA Karamoja Industrial Business Park?
  • Will the UIA and all the investors who will use the pack ensure that all their activities will go through a systematic environmental impact assessment in order to ascertain the effect – positive or negative – of their actions in Karamoja?
  • How will the positive effects be encouraged and equitably shared?
  • How will the negative effects be ameliorated?

Clearly, the ‘development’ initiative by government, through UIA, has begun on the wrong footing. Not only through its acquisition of land in a seemingly irresponsible and likely fraudulent manner; but in the negative consequences already experienced by Karimojong communities.

The negative consequences of alienating thousands from their land, through land use eviction and physical eviction. Physical eviction, for example, is in the sense that when the mining activities or construction activities begin, it is likely that the peace of Karimojong ancestors that were laid to rest on the land will be disturbed. It could be through physical removal and re-location or through being trampled over.

The government brutally forcing spiritual disconnections that the Karimojong have with their ancestors is disruptive and disrespectful of the spirituality and religious practice of Karimojong. This includes, among others, restricting their access to their shrines at which they do thanks giving and blessing ceremonies. There is a case to be made, indeed, in favour of Karimojong from the perspective of freedom of religion and worship.

The UIA ‘development’ intervention, according to researchers, is causing poverty by removing the freedoms of Karimojong to have access to natural resources – land use, for pastoral resources, for firewood, for medications, for herbs, for ngakiokes (“the small stones used by women in milk processing and cleaning of gourds”), for settlements, for spiritual and for ancestral connections.

‘Modernization’ initiatives in Karamoja, generally, in the past, have disrupted migratory routes and Karimojong’s access to grazing areas, so as to make way for mining, cropping and wild life ‘conservation’ activities for the greater benefit of others non-Karimojong. Consequently, the economic disempowerment of Karimojong.

The history of forceful acquisition of Karamoja’s land for other purposes goes way back to the 1920s by the colonial British government of Uganda; and of the successive post-independence administrations of the government.

Case in point, according to Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, in his analysis, “Karamoja: Colonial roots of famine in north-east Uganda,” in the Review of African Political Economy, 1982: Vol. 25:66-73, one such example is the establishment of Kidepo National Park on 1,442 square kilometres of Karamoja’s land.

By 2010, a significant proportion, 24.8 percent (6,876.92 square kilometers of Karmoja’s 27,700 square kilometres) of Karamoja’s land was covered by exclusive mineral exploration licenses and location licenses. This is according to Margaret A. Rugadya, Herbert Kamusiime, and Nsamba Eddie Gayiiya in their publication: “Tenure in mystery: Status of land and wildlife, forestry and mining concessions in Karamoja, in Uganda.”

Mining activities necessarily entail the disruption of other livelihoods activities. Access to land resources is usually denied to others by those who hold licenses. Sadly, according to researchers, in many cases the land in Karamoja for which mining concessions have been given is in the most fertile areas.

Meaning that the land is out of bounds for pastoral and crop farming activities, as well as prohibiting access to natural plant cover for building materials, medicines, and wood fuel, among others. This has a direct negative impact on the food and nutrition security of the affected communities.

Land alienation of Karimojong, forces them, together with their large herds of livestock, to survive on less land and on lower quality land; and it is a contributing factor to practices that are degrading the environment in Karamoja.

‘Modernization’ initiatives, moreover, typically benefit ‘foreigners’ at the expense of Karimojong and thus contribute to increasing income poverty in Karamoja. Such initiatives do so by removing productive assets from Karimojong; and to be used and benefited from by ‘investors’, inclusive of a few Karimojong who benefit individually from greed.

Consequently, modernization interventions in Karamoja end up turning Karimojong from being communal owners of land into unemployed masses, whose survival depends on accessing low paid causal labour or accessing free handouts from relief aid. Or turning Karimojong into internally displaced persons who migrate to urban centers to become beggars.

Indeed, it seems that the gap is getting wider between the well-connected, Karimojong and non-Karimojong, who have excess to wealth; and the majority of Karimojong that are struggling to access resources, in order to acquire basic and genuine needs. The wealth gap is visible.

The reality in Karamoja today, is that the achievement is getting ever so difficult of the ideal of natural resources being managed for the greater good of the whole community, as opposed to for the benefit of a few individuals. In Karamoja, after all, government policies foster exogenous induced cultural conflict, legal land alienation and disruption of local land right systems for the benefit of well-connected individuals or organizations.

Exogenous induced cultural conflict is nurtured in Karamoja, because instead of complementing each other the Karimojong ‘traditional’ systems and the ‘modern’ systems of the state compete. And, in some cases, they are incompatible. Outsiders hardly take the time to examine the economic viability of the Karimojong semi-nomadic pastoral cattle economy.

The Karimojong cattle economy is traditionally contextualized within a communal system of property rights. Within communal land tenure systems, the ideal is that individual community members, in enjoying their use rights, function similar to lands held in private. They may pass their occupancy rights to their heirs; and at the same time they retain exclusive rights to the crops grown on the land that they occupy.

It is, therefore, wrong to assume, as is the norm, that individual rights are inconsistent with customary land tenure. Unfortunately, on the basis of this misconception, the push by the government for registration and titling of Karimojong land has provided opportunity for well-connected individuals to convert Kariomojong lands.

Karimojong lands once held under communal customary tenure are rapidly being converted to to individual-based tenure systems, such as freehold; and thus enabling individuals to commercialize and to profiteer from Karimojong land.

Yes, Uganda’s freehold, mailo and leasehold systems, in contrast to our customary tenure, are based on individual ownership, similar to tenure systems characteristic of the ‘possessive market society’ and, ideally, consistent with land ownership in the ‘global-western sense’. In the global-western sense, land is individually owned, with exclusive rights in exchange for cash, and is acquired through formal contractual arrangements between seller and buyer.

The government is increasingly promoting the global-western sense of land ownership. It is promoting the greater individualization of land, in order to confer permanent use rights to individuals and is enlarging the scope of individual rights to transfer or to sell land relatively freely.

The government’s attitude is evident in Uganda’s policies. Central government has changed from its minimalist approach to customary ownership of recognizing customary groups, without intervention in the groups’ internal affairs.

In contradiction with the Constitution, central government is now pushing a more transformational approach of issuing certificates of title of customary ownership that confer rights equivalent to freehold tenure, and to facilitate the conversion of customary land into freehold tenure.

The government’s major reason for the promotion of individualization of land, as can be deduced from policy, is so that land in Uganda is ‘better utilised’ for ‘modernization’ and ‘development’ of Uganda. T he kind of ‘better utilized’, ‘modernization’ and ‘development’ that benefits outsiders and a few Karimojong collaborators.

Photo credit: Ateker Cultural Center Karamoja.

4 thoughts on “Disruption of Karimojong Pastoralists’ Lives”

  1. A seller of land can only give a title as good as what he/she held. If the land was fraudulently acquired, then UIA bought hot air since the fraud was simply shifted to another party!

    Back to the notion of disruptive development. My conclusion, after working in Karamoja for close to two years is that either people in/with power have stopped thinking or they are just lazy.

    I have always argued that any development programmes should be sensitive to the socio-economic aspirations of the people they are intended to benefit. I had issues with Projects titled “Alternative Livelihoods…… for Karamoja”. Why alternative? Why not supplementary?

    I read a report which showed that Karamoja has 20% of the cattle and 50% of the sheep population in Uganda. The communities expressed their interest in vetenary services as a matter of priority. But when a certain government Programme was launched, people were shocked to find that 80% of it was focusing on crop production yet the aforementioned report was used to inform the design of that Programme.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, I agree with you assessment – why alternative indeed? Why not locate programme designs and implementation within the centre Karimojong social institutions – beliefs, practices, traditions, etc.?

      Liked by 1 person

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