The Gun madness in Karamojong cluster

By Metro Reporter

For Many years, the problem of illegal guns has caused a lot of suffering to the people of the Karamoja Cluster. Many people have lost their lives, others displaced, property destroyed and children forced out of school.  Recently the Merille militia attacked Turkana fishermen in Todonyang killing for in the first incident and six others in the second. A total of 7 boats and other fishing gear were stolen. Even though efforts have been made by respective governments and other stake holders to bring this problem to an end, nothing much seem to have been achieved.

Recently Merille Militia men from Ethiopia struck and killed 10 Turkana Fishermen on Lake Turkana in Todonyang area. According to Kibish Deputy County Commissioner, Eric Wanyonyi, who talked to us on phone, four people were killed during the first incident that took place on 2nd of August 2013 while six more were killed on 12th August 2013. Five managed to escape in the second attack. A total of 7 boats plus other fishing gearwere stolen.

Yet, sometime back, some parts of Turkana County, to be precise, the people of Tododoyang andKokuro in Turkana North Sub-County, were engulfed in mourning when their loved ones were slain by militia men from Ethiopia. Even though the exact number of the dead was put at 42 people by the Press, the official number given by the authority was 20 people who included 14 Turkanas and 6 Ethiopians while the local leaders insisted that those who lost their lives were more than 50 people.To be precise, they had put the figure at 60.

According to the local Administration, the senseless killings were sparked off in retaliation mission when local residents decided to avenge the death and injury of the two Turkana fishermen who had been attacked by the Merille in unclear circumstances. This provoked the other community to hit back, by killing about 20 Turkanas who had gone to a village occupied by Merille to do barter trade.

According to Todonyang Parish Priest, Stephen Ochieng, when this incident took place, there were several Turkanas who had crossed over to Ethiopia to do batter trade with their neighbours, and had it not been for timely interventionof the Catholic Mission, which offered protection to 45 Turkanas who had crossed to Ethiopia, to protect them, many would have lost their lives.

This sad incident raised a lot of concern. Leaders from various levels of the Government visited the place and voiced their concern promising that the Government would do all it takes to protect its people. Security was also was supposed to be beefed up in the region to ensure that the two communities do not attack each other; something local leaders have reportedly said has not been done up to now.

Namorupus, where the first attackers are believed to have come from, is an area believed to be situated 5 Kilometres inside Kenya on a fertile Lake Turkana shores. It has been an issue of concern for many years and yet very little, if any, has been done to put the record straight by having the illegal occupation corrected.

Though in Kenyan territory, the area has been in occupation of Merille, who wrongfully believe that the area is in Ethiopia. Many people look at this as a hot spot that could spark off confrontation between the two communities if corrective measures are not taken early enough.

For many years, the local leaders have voiced their concern over this illegal occupation and yet nothing much has been done by the two authorities to persuade the Merille, who grow sorghum in the area, go back to Ethiopia.

Apart from the by then Prime Minister, RailaOdinga and other top Government officials visiting the place, the immediately former President MwaiKibakialso held talks on this issue, with his Ethiopian counterpart, the by then Prime Minister MelesZenawi, in Uganda when the two attended the swearing in of the Ugandan President, YoweriKagutaMuseveni.

Also Kenyan Parliament had to suspend its normal business to discuss the Todonyang issue, at the same time prompting the Parliamentary Security Committee to visit insecurity prone areas with a view of assessing the situation.

For many years, Todonyang, a once promising fish landing centre, has been a shadow of what it used to be due to repeated attacks and counter attacks by the two communities. This has made occupation of the place a nightmare save for the efforts of the Catholic Mission which has been working hard to restore hope in the area.

For the last few years, the Catholic Mission, through the Missionary Community of Saint Paul the Apostle(MCSPA) has been working hard to repair the bad relationship between the two communities which had been damaged by repeated raids against each other. Dialogue and sharing of resources have been among the approaches applied. Equally, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) advocating for peace have used a lot of resources trying to restore peace among the two communities in the region.

It is through these efforts that sanity was slowly returning to the centre which had been completely razed down by raiders with its residents fleeing to other places for safety. It was through these initiatives that the church, which had been destroyed, was renovated and a primary school which had equally been vandalized was rehabilitated, thus giving the people who had fled to safety a reason to want to go back and start life again from where they had stopped. Some had indeed done this.

The recent killings were among several such sad incidents that had turned Todonyang, a once promising fish-landing centre with good batter trade and flourishing opportunities, into a dreaded place where guns are used indiscriminately, to the peril of the local communities from both sides.

Senseless Killings

Whatever the case, the senseless killing of innocent people, may it be Kenyans, Ethiopians, Sudanese or Ugandans by trigger happy raiders in the Karamojong Cluster must be stopped by all means. The uncontrolled use of illegal arms in the region in the name of protecting property should bebrought to an end.

Indeed, the indiscriminate use of firearms, more so illegal firearms, has been an issue of big concern in the affected areas. Many lives have been lost, property destroyed, people displaced, young women widowed, children orphaned and some dropped out school as a result of this. Poverty reigns supreme as the rate of illiteracy skyrockets with retrogressive cultural norms that have little room for development,being wholesomely embraced.

Karamojong Cluster, found in the Dry-lands of East Africa, and occupied by mainly nomads who practice pastoralism, has experienced this problem for many years. Efforts to contain it using various means have yielded very little results.

And as it were, Todonyang is just one of such centres in the vast Cluster where possession of illegal guns has turned life into nightmare, despite efforts to help silence it. Things aren’t better in other parts of Turkana County either.

Sometime back,, an Assistant chief for Napeitom Sub-Location, Turkana EastSubn-County, CalystusNaudoiEkidor, was gunned down when he tried to repulse raiders who had attacked his people. Two other people were also killed.

Yet, almost at the same time, an Assistant Chief for Lopii Sub-Location, John Ekuwom, was seriously injured when he was hit by raiders who had attached his people. He was taken to Moi Referral and Teaching Hospital (MRTH), Eldoret, for specialized treatment. Todate, he is still nursing the injuries. Lokwamosing is yet another volatile spot in Turkana East.

In 1998, a total of 190 people were attacked and killed at a Manyatta near watering point in Lokichoggio by Toposas from Southern Sudan. Yet in October 1992, a total of 200 people who included women, men and children were attacked and killed by Toposas in Narus, Southern Sudan where they had gone to graze and water their animals. There have been several such senseless killings in various parts of the vast Karamojong Cluster. Several security officers have also lost their lives.


The use of Illegal arms in the Cluster has remained a big challenge for along time. For time immemorial, illegal firearms, which initially were acquired for protection, have been turned into machines of terror and total destruction in the region.


Some years back, some of the communities, more so those that practice pastoralism, acquired some firearms to protect themselves and their animals against external aggression. A move which was seen as protective measure has turned out to be a curse to those communities as those firearms are used indiscriminately. As result of this, many people live in fear, not knowing if they will wake up and see the light of the next day.


For many years, these communities have continued to pile illegal firearms on pretext of protection and self-defense. Instead, these arms have become a major source of conflict and a big threat to lives of innocent people.


The Karamoja Cluster which comprises the Pian, Karamoja,Jie, Matheniko, Bokora, Tepes and Nyangatom (Uganda); the Turkanas and Pokots (Kenya); the Dodoth, Dongiro and Desnerch (merille) of South-Easterrn Ethiopia and the Dodoth and Toposas (Southern Sudan),has had its ugly share of armed conflicts that have left many lives lost, animals stolen, people displaced and properties destroyed.


Historical Background

Raids upon raids have been the order of the day for many years with no hope of getting a permanent solution. Even though joint efforts by concerned Governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to help stem out the vice, nothing much has been realized as armed conflicts continue to flare up in these communities making lives of many people miserable.


By extension, this problem has affected many parts of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) in Kenya where struggle for accumulation of wealth, fight for watering points and scarce resources have seen pastoralists go for each other’s throat.


Indeed, the use of the illegal gun has almost become way of life in the Karamoja Cluster making armed conflict in East Africa ASALs an issue of great concern


A report of Market Baseline Survey carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the European Economic Union (EEU) in the cross-border of Karamoja (Uganda) and Turkana (Kenya) in 2004 says that proliferation of thousands of firearms into hands of wrong people has increased the severity and scope of conflicts in the Karamoja cluster. It further says that a study carried out by the Security Research and Information Center (SRIC), Nairobi, found out that Turkana alone had over 66,239 of such firearms.


The Report further says that over 60,000 firearms were in the wrong hands among the Karamojong community of Uganda.  It is believed that most of this cache of arms was amassed after the fall of Obote’s governmentin 1979 and from the civil strife that has been going on in in Sudan for many years. When Obote was overthrown, the army in Moroto abandoned their barracks leaving the Karamojongworriors take advantage of the situation and made away with firearms.


However, there are many reasons why armed conflicts continue in the Cluster. One of them is Nomadic way of life that has embraced pastoralism which embraces retrogressive cultural norms such as cattle rustling which has seen many people killed, livestock stolen, property destroyed and other people displaced


 Many cases of violent raids have been witnessed in Turkana. These raids have been carried out in various parts of the County. The northern part has continually suffered from attacks by the Dongiro, Desnerch, Toposa and Nyangtom from Ethiopia and Southern Sudan respectively, whereas the Southern part has experienced attacks from Pokots, Jie and Tepes. The westerners have always suffered under the hands of the Matheniko,Pian and Karamojong from Uganda.


Likewise the Pokots have suffered attacks from Turkanas and their neighbours from Uganda while the pian, Bokora, Matheniko, Dodoth and Karamojong have equally suffered armed raids from their Turkanas and Pokots (Kenya) and Nyangatom and Toposas (Southern Sudan).


In Turkana County, the violent thefts of cattle by organized groups (raiding), as well as banditry, have greatly impaired strategies to generate livelihood. These raids particularly in Turkana County, are so frequent in that they have formed main stories in both print and electronic media. In most cases these raids result in loss of lives, property and displacements. Unfortunately the most vulnerable in these attacks are the most poor, elderly, women and children most of whom have to live hard lives after losing their loved ones and property. It remains to be seen if things will improve with devolved system of government in place.





Associated Problems


The  continued use of illegal arms in Karamojong Cluster has impacted on the communities living in it negatively affecting various facets of life. Development has suffered as a result of this. Education level has remained all the time low, especially in Eastern Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Turkana County. Poverty reigns supreme in many parts of the Cluster


Apart from loss of lives, displacement of people and impediment of development of education in the region the resultant insecurity has made it hard for the available resources to be utilized fully.


 Indeed conflicts in the region have hindered the production of dry-lands products and resources in various ways. Livestock production, the main and leading economic activity in Turkana and Karamoja dry-lands has borne much of the brunt of conflicts.



Livestock Production

Livestock and its byproducts are the main economic activities in the region, and yet they are among the leading causes of raids in the Cluster.


The continued conflicts have rendered areas with abundant pasture and water resources inaccessible. This has always led to starvation, loss of weight and eventual deaths of livestock that could have fetched good income for owners. In most cases Livestock are concentrated in areas that are presumed safe constraining the nomadic pastoralism as a good source of income and earning livelihood.


 On the other hand, livestock production has suffered whenever raids take place and animals driven away and herders killed. By extension agro farming also suffers a lot when pastoralists abandon their homes and farms conflicts, a move that has always affected food security in the region.


Also spread of animal diseases is associated with conflicts. Whenever there is fear of conflicts, animals are put together for safety in a given area. This helps the rapid spread of contagious livestock diseases. The same thing happens after the raid when stolen animals are mixed with other livestock. If such livestock have diseases they easily transmit to the other herds. A whole herd is likely to be wiped out.





Education in the Cluster in general and Turkana County in particular has suffered a lot as a result of illegal guns. Children have not only been forced to abandon their education but also fled to safety in other places.


Educational institutions in various parts of Turkana and Pokot Counties have not only been abandoned but also destroyed by marauding raiders who do not seem to appreciate the importance of education for their children. Lochakula, one of the promising tourist attraction centre in Turkana East Sub-County was forced to close down several years ago when raids on it became frequent. A health centre and school that had been put up in the area were destroyed.



On the other hand, the fish landing centre of Todonyang in Turkana North Sub-County closed down when attacks from the neighbouringDesnerch community from South-Eastern Ethiopia became frequent. Like Lochakula, all the facilities that had been put up, including a school that was benefitting the two communities, were completely destroyed


Napeitom in Turkana East Sub-County also suffered the same fate. Efforts to relocate people there are being met with a lot of resistance from the neighbouring community.


The Turkana South District Education Officer (DEO) Dixon Ogonya says that that the gun has made it difficult to develop education in the region. He further says that in some schools, teachers are forced to go to class wit guns whereas in others parents refuse to let their children attend classes.


The DEO further says that performance has been poor in various schools in the region because teachers refuse to take up transfer to those schools fearing for their lives




Poverty level in the region is high as there are no tangible development projects taking place. Exploitation of the scarce resources available is not easy due to insecurity and livestock and its products which could be the pillar of economic growth in ASALs have turned out to be a curse as they are among the main sources of conflict.


Also the approach to addressing facing the pastoralists such as endless droughts and famines have not been well-structured as livestock owners are not well educated on the importance of selling their animals when the drought strikes. Instead they leave them to die hoping to be assisted in restocking.

There is also this problem of depending on relief supplies when either famine or droughts strike. This has made people more vulnerable and ill prepared for such eventualities. In this case, people have been left over-exposed to multiplicity of problems that help to perpetuate the age-long fabric of poverty that would have been cut through capacity building for self-empowerment.





Past Interventions

For many years, the concerned authorities in the Cluster, NGOs, CBOs and FBOs have directed their efforts towards finding a long-lasting solution to the problem of the illegal firearms and their impact in the region.



Voluntary Surrender of Arms

For years now, both Kenyan and Ugandan Governments have used various programs in their bid to mop out illegal firearms. One of the approaches in Uganda has been through Voluntary Surrender of illegal firearms in which those who surrender are compensated. Though some people have heeded this with the assurance of amnesty, not much has been realized. The same approach was used by the Kenyan Authority minus compensation bit but with amnesty clause. Like in Uganda, very few people came out to surrender their illegally owned arms. And it is widely believed that even the few who did this, most of those that were given out were old guns that had failed to work.


 The Ugandan Government started programme of voluntary surrender of fire arms way back in 2001 through the assistance of UNDP. When it failed to work, it resorted to using force which resulted in resistance from the targeted communities.


A research report entitled; Human Right and Gun Confisitication,  by David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant and Joanne D. Eisen, of Independence Institute, Golden Colorado, says that on December 2, 2001, at the urging of the United Nations,  Ugandan President YoweriGagutaMuseveni, began a government-sponsored voluntary disarmament program with the stated justification of reducing pastoralist violence.  “The program expired on February 15, 2002, and only 7, 676 guns (out of a conservatively estimated 40,000) were collected. President Museveni then escalated his tactics to disarm the Karamojong. The army commenced a “forcible disarmament operation” in an attempt to obtain the remainder of the guns yet many gun-owners refused to disarm,” the report says further.


On the other hand a research report by Ken Matthysen, Sergio Finardi, Brian Thomas and Peter Danssaert, entitled:  The Karamoja Cluster of Eastern Africa: Arms transfers and their repercussions on communal security perceptions’says that the ‘unintended side effect of the Ugandan disarmament campaigns was that it left the disarmed communities powerless and unprotected, because of the lack of law and order and the incapacity of the state’s security institutions. Weapons have become an indispensable means to defend livestock and to access limited resources vital for the cattle. Communities that have undergone disarmament are justified in fearing attacks by cattle rustlers, still in possession of their arms, a consequence of unbalanced disarmament.


It further says that: ‘The campaign was not executed simultaneously throughout the Karamoja region. While one village had handed over its arms, another still possessed theirs. The groups that retained their firearms could easily raid the disarmed ones. In several cases, no more than a few days after a village had been disarmed; a raid struck its population. Because of the weak state security apparatus, the disarmed pastoralists cannot be guaranteed security by the state. Improved coordination and regional cooperation in disarmament exercises would certainly facilitate its effectiveness’.


In Kenya the situation hasn’t been different either as the pastoralists have remained armed despite almost-continuous disarmament programmes for over a century. In 1984, it experienced the difficulty of disarming civilians who declared that they would rather die than disarm.  The report further says: “Operation NYUNDO” was a collaborative effort of the Kenyan and Ugandan armies, similar to the joint campaign against civilian gun owners that began in 2005.”


The research further says that, “Fearing a repeat of the 1984 atrocities, 15,000 panicked people fled to Uganda with their cattle and their guns, leaving behind the aged, the infirm, and the children. In West Pokot alone, 120,000 people needed food aid, but only 68,000 received rations. Schooling was disrupted, and farmsteads were neglected. Five weeks after the forced disarmament began; only seventy illegally possessed firearms had been recovered.”



Beefing up Security

Both the Kenyan and Ugandan Government have tried to beef up security along common borders but the long stretch has made it difficult to realize the desired results. While Ugandan side has engaged vigilantes (community policing) Kenya has used Kenya Police Reserves (KPRs) to boost security in the affected areas.


The challenges that are faced in this strategy are that those who are engaged are ill-trained and sometimes have attendance of misusing the arms that are provided to them. It has been claimed that the wave of highway banditry that are experienced along the roads in the Cluster, particularly in Turkana County are carried out using KPRs arms.


Conflict Resolution Approach

Apart from efforts from respective Authorities,  NGOs, CBOs and FBOs have facilitated in peace dialogues and conflict management in the Cluster helping to bring together the warring groups. Leaders, women, elders and the youths have been facilitated to attend such forums.

This strategy has been useful since it has helped to bring down rates of raids in the Cluster.


Perhaps one of the most successful peace campaign was the one applied by the African Union/Inter Bureau for Animal Resources (AU/IBAR)’s Community Based Animal Health and Participatory Epidemiology (CAPE) Unit that came up with various programmes to address the problem. CAPE brought together pastoralists from Toposaland (southern Sudan) and Turkanaland (Kenya). It was held at Nawoitorong Centre, Lodwar, in 1999. 


In 2002,  it held a Cross-Border Leaders meeting at Turkana Teachers Resource Centre, Lodwar.The meeting brought together various stake holders to discuss peace. The participants were drawn from Kotido and Moroto (Uganda) and Turkana (Kenya). A follow-up meeting was later held in Moroto Uganda. Similar meetings were to be held in various parts of the two countries.


CAPE Unit also came up with Alokita in which Women and the youth drawn from Southern Sudan, Uganda and Kenya joined hands and travelled the ragged terrain of the Cluster castigating the continued use of the illegal gun in the Karamoja Cluster and also preached peace using songs and poems.


During that time raids were virtually reduced to isolated cases of animal thefts in the Cluster as the involved communities embraced peaceful co-existence.


Apart from AU/IBAR’s CAPE Unit, there are several organizations that have participated in conflict management strategies in the Cluster. Among them; Practical Action (formerly Intermediate Technology Development Group- ITDG-East Africa), Oxfam; The World Vision-initiatedPokot, Karamojong, Turkana and Sabiny (POKATUSA), which closed down in 2003 and TeglaLoroupe Peace Foundation, Paxi Christi Netherlands.


In Karamoja (Uganda), the organizations which have been active in conflict management are: the World Vision POKATUSA peace project (which closed down some years back), the Matheniko Development Forum (MADEFO),KaramojaInitiatives for Sustainable Peace (KISP) andKaramoja Agro-Pastoralism Development Programme (KADP) among others. The interventions of these various stake holders have always resulted to peaceful resolution of conflicts leading to sense of tolerance and peaceful coexistence among these communities, albeit for a short period in some cases.


The question that has been asked more often than not is that why has it been hard to silence the sound of the illegal gun in Karamoja Cluster despite various efforts and enormous resources that have been used before?


The answers to this question have been as varied as the reasons given. Cultural norms that embrace and glorify accumulation of wealth, no matter how they are acquired, payment of hefty bride price, and utter lust for wealth and sheer hatred have all been blamed on the endless use of the illegal gun in the Cluster.

The Merille of Ethiopia, for example, have a queer culture which requires young worriors to capture and mutilate the bodies of the captives by removing private parts before they can be considered men. This normally takes place in the month of August; the time they raid their Turkana neighbours more frequently.


On the other hand, some of the approaches that have been used to address this problem have been castigated in some quarters. More so, the approach of holding meetings in boardrooms far away from the scene of action has been seen as wrong approach.


However, the current approach to conflict resolution in the Cluster has not changed much. Meetings through which peace-related issues are discussed are still organized and held. Local leaders, administrators and elders as well as youth and women attend such meetings.


Sometimes such meetings bring about a lull of peace that last for a few days, weeks or even months. Other times they do not as the peace accords that are signed are broken before the ink dries on the paper.


And yet, other times, elders and local leaders trade accusations which, only help to scuttle such well-intended meetings.


Past experience indeed shows that various ways have been used by various people to address the problem and yet it still persists.


The Radical option

Those who advocate for this approach to the problem say that the only way out of the whole thing is through forceful disarmament which should be carried out simultaneously. However past experience shows that this is unlikely to work as the disarmed communities are likely to fall vulnerable to those still holding hands.


 Past studies like the ones carried out by David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant and Joanne D. Eisen, of Independence Institute, Golden Colorado, show that they have been tried for many years, not only once, but several times, but have failed. Instead, they have only resulted in abuse of human rights when extreme force is used against those who are unwilling to surrender their arms.



Yet there are those who still believe that dialogue is better than using force. This school of thought says that the traditional way of bringing together elders to sort of differences, if embraced, could work miracles. These are the people who believe in strong well-structure community peace committees that will help to monitor and bring up dialogue where necessary as opposed to acquisition of illegal firearms by force.



Poverty and high rates of illiteracy in the region have been blamed for many problems that pastoralists face. This has led into believing that holding a gun is the only way of ensuring that the little wealth one has is protected

Unfortunately, the temptations of abusing the very gun that is kept for protection remain high in the region where getting a meal a day can be a nightmare to most of the people.


This has made some people believe that if the level of poverty is brought down, then urge to use a gun in order to get something to eat will go down. One of the ways is empowering the community through provision of education. Another one is through utilization of available resources that will help empower them. Proper marketing of livestock and their products could be a positive move towards this direction.

Identification of all available resources and their full utilizations for the benefit of the local community could be another.  Apart from livestock gypsum and various minerals are found in the Cluster. Turkana handicraft and Fishing industries are yet other resources that could be tapped and turned into vibrant industries that could create jobs for the idle youth. Agricultural activities could help boost food production.


Sharing of Resources

It has been said that with properly executed policies by all the concerned authorities, sharing of resources and amenities will foster sense of brotherhood. Schools and health facilities which are constructed along the common border will greatly help, more so as people try to appreciate the importance of education and understand the usefulness of these facilities. “They have been tried and failed miserably,” some will argue, “Try again and keep on trying and eventually pieces of the big jigsaw will fall in place,” yet argue the proponents of peace in the Cluster.


Enforcement of the Law

Law is law. Unlicensed guns are illegal no matter what. Selective application of the law has seen some communities among the nomads believe that carrying the gun, even if it is illegal is their right, and yet in other parts, carrying an illegal gun is a serious offense. In this case, the law should be applied to all and those found flouting it should be punished accordingly


In spite of all these challenges, the organizations which have been fighting hard to restore sanity and peace in the Cluster strongly believe that all is not lost. They still work hard with the local communities and administrators all the time holding strongly onto the conviction that one day a permanent solution shall be found and the sound of the illegal gun in the Cluster will be silenced.


Theirs is a strong conviction in that no matter what it takes to arrive there, they will not lay down their tools of trade until the illegal gun is silenced in the KaramojaCluster to give the people of the Cluster moments of peace to enjoy their sweet Dreams. And journalists too, seem to have vowed to always be there to capture the story as it breaks. Perhaps, the total silencing of the sound of the illegal gun in Karamoja Cluster will be the biggest story of all times. Certainly, we will be there to bring it to you as it breaks.