Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

'We Are Now Reduced to Women': Impacts of Forced Disarmament in Karamoja, Uganda

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

'We Are Now Reduced to Women': Impacts of Forced Disarmament in Karamoja, Uganda

Article excerpt


This article provides background on the Government of Uganda's disarmament campaign in Karamoja. We discuss the recent history of and motivations for the disarmament campaign, and the experiences and perceptions of local communities as they adjust to a changing security and livelihoods environment. We focus on the emergence of protected kraals as an indicator of the impacts of disarmament on local lives and livelihoods, even while recognizing that the protected kraals are themselves in transition due to shifts in military priorities and practice. We look both at intended effects and unintended externalities caused by the disarmament campaign, including increased sedentarization and associated shifts away from pastoral production, shifts in gendered divisions of labour and responsibility within households, and the substantial influx of humanitarian assistance into the region. Lastly, we consider the alignment of donor and government priorities and policies over the next five years, and the likely impacts for development and security.

Keywords: pastoralism, agropastoralism, livelihoods, gender, sedentarization


The Karamoja region of north-eastern Uganda is a remote and semi-arid region characterized by highly variable rainfall, pastoral and agropastoral livelihoods, minimal economic development, and perpetual security threats. Successive governments since colonial times have largely ignored the region, except to quell weapons trafficking deemed a potential threat to broader stability, or, under the colonial powers, to ensure that the highly lucrative trade in ivory benefited British coffers (Barber 1968). Karamoja has seen a series of disarmament initiatives since the early twentieth century, but has benefited from few parallel or sustained efforts at economic or infrastructure development (Bevan 2008).

Active marginalization by the central state is not the sole cause of Karamoja's chronic problems. Insecurity is pronounced and affects all aspects of lives and livelihoods; violence has been part of life for generations and is perpetrated by male civilians, often with the support of their families and communities. The most visible form of violence remains livestock raids (Markakis 2009). Cattle were long the basis of the economy in Karamoja, served as an indicator of wealth, and were central to social exchange and ritual practice (Dyson-Hudson 1966). Men used spears for cattle raiding and hunting until the late 1800s when traders first introduced guns into the region (Mirzeler and Young 2000). The gradual flow of small arms into Karamoja increased in the mid-twentieth century, and attacks within the region and against neighbouring groups became increasingly violent and deadly (Mkutu 2008). Casualties within all demographic groups increased sharply beginning in the 1980s, but young men remain both the primary victims and the main perpetrators of armed violence (Gray et al. 2003).

The objective of this research was to document and analyse the livelihood impacts of the most recent disarmament campaign (2006 to present). We sought to understand the experiences of individuals, households and communities in Karamoja and to collect data on their perceptions of the changes in their lives and livelihoods as a result of disarmament. We recognize, however, that disarmament is one of many simultaneous processes, and thus its impacts cannot be viewed as entirely isolated from other events in the region, including drought and internal insecurity.


This article draws on data from fieldwork conducted by the authors from May 2005 to October 2009 throughout the districts of Karamoja and in neighbouring districts of Uganda and Sudan. (1) This consisted of a dozen field trips to the region, ranging from two to six weeks in duration. In total, the data and analysis we present are based on interviews and discussions with 1,759 individuals (Akabwai and Ateyo 2007, Stites and Akabwai 2009, Stites and Fries 2010, Stites, Mazurana and Akabwai 2007, Stites, Mazurana, Akabwai and Ateyo 2007). …

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