The year 2015 did not end well for herders in Karamoja as low scale cattle thefts resulted into bigger post-Christmas cattle raids of Jie cattle in Kotido district by Turkana herders. The raids, carried out with the help of automatic weapons resulted into the reported loss of about 250 cows. District and the United Nations authorities have also recorded other attacks in Kaabong.The events between the Jie and Turkana and around grazing areas in the districts of Moroto, Kotido, and Kaabong all of which also host Turkana herders have engaged the region, (which is reluctant to throw itself into full scale conflict again), into a panic mode. In the politics of cattle conflicts in the region, no single incident is treated in isolation, as any could have a ripple effect in the rest of the region.
Conflicts are heating up
El Nino rains of the last quarter of 2015 ensured more water sources were available for pastoralists in the aforementioned grazing areas. In the areas of Apule, Kobebe, Kalosarich, Kotein among others small watering points made it possible for drier season grazing grounds to be let free for later use. The grazing area around Kobebe dam in Moroto for example – was freed up as opportunity was sought elsewhere.
However, the conflicts in these areas have forced an unexpected and untimely movement of Turkana herds, with these moving down south to Matheniko. As of the second week of January 2016, Turkana herders were grazing down past the Apule River, nearer Lokisilei, Pupu, Ateedeoi and Lobuneit villages in Rupa Sub County.
Fears of conflict are palpable, over concentration of large herds over smaller dams and grazing areas is leading to their exhaustion at a faster rate. Grazing grounds near villages are usually saved by pastoralists for the grazing of cows meant for milk in homes as the large herds go to farther dry season grazing grounds. These are the grazing grounds that are now being threatened with exhaustion.
Will resource scarcity, climate change force cooperation or exacerbate conflict?
In the meetings we have been part of, the Matheniko have maintained that they do not want ‘asiilio’ or ‘carelessness’ of both the Turkana and Jie to spread. They fear that by the Turkana moving closer to the Matheniko, they may be perceived as an alliance and face same insecurity.
In all these conflicts though, a severance of ties is not an option, it appears. Host communities are aware that accommodating visiting herds is both a reality, as well as a responsibility of every herder in an unpredictable situation. This access is only regulated – and there are plenty of traditional options to manage grazing economics and politics. With increased government presence and relevance though, the Kenyan and the Ugandan State and other actors, in our view should only facilitate developments towards reaching solutions with pastoralists.
The herders naturally know there are difficulties in their environment, occasioned by climate change (not a new concept to herders). While insecurity caused by humans is understood to only further complicate this problem, the herders in the Karamoja region have learnt over the years that these conflicts are only costly, counterproductive and unnecessary.
The situation in Matheniko Moroto
In Nakamarikemer water dam, north of Rupa Sub County, a heated community meeting between the Turkana and Matheniko ensued over water resource sharing. Apparently, the Turkana had moved in closely with huge numbers of livestock to access water from the dam meant for domestic livestock. Led by their leaders, the Turkana were pleading for access to the same water. The Matheniko fear the water if shared will not sustain domestic livestock, especially calves. The community meeting agreed to grant the Turkana access for one day and asked them to migrate in search of water to other nearby locations.
The Turkana herders are happy they have been given a day’s access to the water. They drive their animals to drink. We go back a day after, and find out that there is no actual watering of animals on the small dam. Even Matheniko cattle are not taking water from there, as the water is now saved for goats, calves and for drinking. This is because there is no borehole nearby for access to human drinking water.
The people are generally unhappy that the Turkana and the Jie are at conflict. “When it is time to go to Kobebe” one kraal leader told us, “we’ll get the Turkana and the Jie to talk and make peace over that water”
My team and I are excited with the level of organization of the kraals, and how they manage their own conflicts, but more so, how they enforce their decisions.