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Longoli Simon Peter

On 12th September 2019, Moroto Town will be delighted to host two Presidents for the first time as H.E Yoweri Museveni hosts his Kenyan counterpart, H.E Uhuru Kenyatta in what will be a historic event to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to ‘accord communities on either side of the border opportunities to improve livelihoods and social-economic conditions for sustainable peace.

As members of the Karamojong/Turkana community and civil society, this event is historic for two main reasons. Firstly, it proffers communities and actors a blueprint for intergovernmental cooperation on issues related to pastoralist developments in eastern Africa – and in this case, not just limited to Uganda and Kenya. Secondly, this is an opportunity to press for action to protect pastoralist rights – a hot potato subject which both Kenyan and Ugandan governments are known to eschew.

The text of the memorandum is great – inclusive of all elements that we aspire to, and continue to vouch for. Its 13 objectives deal largely with pastoralist interests from managing pastoralist conflicts, to ensuring access to critical resources through enabling mobility of pastoralists across the border to developing pastoralist infrastructure.

But growing in our environment, our experience with governments has nurtured us to be cynical – and this has unfortunately paid off a lot of times. The evidence is not far. An accompanying ‘Implementation Framework’ to the MOU that the presidents will sign details how this ambition will be brought to life. As they say, the devil is in the detail. It seems clear for now that the biggest bet of this process is on ‘development partners’ e.g. United Nations financing, also called here ‘funded priorities’. The rest mainly reflects the stories the borderland communities have heard for a long time. $950,000 are allocated to the funded priorities for this ‘project’ which has been running since May 2019 and will end in December 2019, with about 63% invested in strengthening mechanisms for collaboration and research (including preparing these instruments and [maybe] getting the presidents to Moroto).

The Kenyan and the Ugandan government, especially the former, must now be compelled to match these commitments with actual investments into joint infrastructure and conflict management. Strong social relations at the community level already exist as an opportunity to make sure that the intended results are achieved in the medium term. Reliance on ‘Development Partners’ funding puts our future in the hands of our ‘good friends, not the governments that we must hold accountable.

Community participation towards the development of this MOU, or this strategy, has been completely absent and I hope on their visit to Kobebe Dam, and the signing ceremony at Naitakwae grounds in Moroto, the two leaders will explain the contents of the agreement to the community representatives and how they intend to achieve the set objectives.

On the Ugandan side, we’ll now hold our government to a higher responsibility on pastoralist issues – especially so that our government walks back on imminent threats to pastoralist mobility within its borders.

If I were attending the signing ceremony or the visit in Kobebe – an important grazing point north of Moroto Town – I would pay attention to what is not written. The off-script, off-the-cuff and nonverbal communications from the leaders of Uganda and Kenya might as well embody the actual policy on cross-border development.  And if you are a local leader or pastoralist lucky to beat the bureaucracy, the gatekeepers, and have a chance to make a statement or greet them, make sure to push the leaders to act on their ‘written word’.

It pays to be cynical, but maybe this is the time to be hopeful too. This might just be a modern-era Lokiriama 1973 – even though the wanainchi might be playing to the Uhu-Sevo bromance!

The author is the Executive Director of the Karamoja Development Forum. KDF works for a society in which pastoralist rights are respected and invests significant resources to promote pastoralist resilience between Karamoja/Turkana.