It is time for Uganda to give the Karamojong what they deserve
After 52 years of independence, you will need a book of superlatives to understand the situation Karamoja finds herself in, or need I say has been put in. It depends on what you choose, and given the kind of understanding you have about the region. One of them is mostly right, and the other, mostly wrong.
Whichever side you fall in, this how Karamoja has been described:
Karamoja has the highest poverty rate in Uganda, with the UN World Food Program putting the figures at over 80%, versus a national average of 27%; less than half of Karamoja’s estimated 1.4 million people (and the expected national census could indicate 1.8 million given the projections from the 2002 census, with the population growing at an annual rate of 7.2%); only 46% have access to safe drinking water, and 8% have access to sanitation units. The Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate across the region is 10.9%, compared to a national rate of 6%, and an international emergency threshold of 10%. Only 8.3% of HIV/AIDS patients are on antiretroviral medicine (compared to 45% nationally), and 51% of district health posts remain unfilled.
Karamoja has the youngest population, with at least 50% under 18. While some studies have placed the literacy rate at 21%, many others show literacy rates stagnating at 12%, with Amudat district having 6%. This is against the national literacy rate hovering around 70%. Infant mortality rates are 178 per 1,000 compared to 88 per 1,000 nationally. Karamoja has 44.8% of children living in households that only eat one meal a day. The prevalence rate for stunting in children is35.5%.
If you still have a few more superlatives left, you might want to devote them to describe the wealth and riches of Karamoja. Even in bad economic times, Karamoja has the highest number of cattle in Uganda, standing at 20% according to the 2008/9 livestock census conducted by Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Agriculture. You need to notice that the effects of a disarmament handled badly were at the height during this period.
Karamoja has the richest natural resource endowments in Uganda. Though a national aerial geological survey did not cover Karamoja because of insecurity in the late 90s, hundreds of companies have expressed interest to explore and prospect for minerals. Industry experts have said Karamoja’s limestone and marble alone will earn Uganda more than the oil hit around the Lake Albert area.
In fact, the exploitation of this limestone started about 13 years ago, by an Eastern Uganda based Cement Company called Tororo Cement Limited. Gold, marble and gemstones are some of the minerals that are being exploited currently. The Government of Uganda has very little, if anything to show for this resource exploitation. On the other hand, transportation of the ore and the rock has destroyed roads in the southern part of Karamoja.
Karamoja continues to suffer from the effects of colonial neglect and the decades of national marginalization. Disruption of a once vibrant cattle economy has meant Karimojong are the poorest in Uganda, a problematic consideration itself because of the difficulty of valuing livestock wealth, or precisely getting it in to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures.
The people of Karamoja are worse off. This is seen in the reduction of cattle stocks, the shortage of milk, the high infant mortality rates and the high number of street children from Karamoja.
Instead of making real investment in Karamoja, to develop its infrastructure and economy, the role of the state has been to leave the people of Karamoja in the hands of NGOs, donors, resulting in what could be the highest NGO per capita in a region of Uganda.
With over 300 NGOs in Karamoja, we simply have one NGO for every 4600 people. The implication is a chaotic ‘development’ process in which the state has neglected its duties and left the people to the error and mercy of private individuals. The harvest of these haphazard, non-inclusive interventions is annual food shortages, unemployment of endemic proportions.
The people of Karamoja have been targets of long-standing discrimination, exclusion and a number of times violence. Poverty within Karamoja must be viewed as both a cause and a manifestation of the diminished rights, opportunities, and social advancement available to Karimojong.
There has been no coherence in interventions, and targeted strategies have to be developed with the Karimojong, who have suffered for a considerable time at the hands of the ‘Expert’.
The dire situation is exacerbated by numerous and complex factors including discrimination and inequality which mark out every aspect of life in Karamoja today.
Most of the youth in Karamoja limit their employment possibilities to the most low-waged and precarious options. When their rights are violated, for example, land and natural resource rights, recourse to institutions of justice is often a distant possibility which is itself a product of the state.
Because of structural and other rudiments, Karimojong are poorly represented in political structures and decision making bodies and consequently have little control over decisions that affect them.
To many people of Karamoja, government is absent in their lives. How can that be when there is very little to show?
The quest to participate in development and make meaningful progress towards self-sustenance remains the interest of many Karimojong. Meanwhile, giving the Karimojong what they deserve should be imperative to the Republic of Uganda and the World.