A few years ago, we thought about creating a platform that interconnects the Karamoja Pastoralists Groups among themselves and other stakeholders. We believed in adopting traditional forms of information sharing such as a council of elders (akiriket), meeting of kraal leaders (ekokwa) and village family meetings (etem) as well as herder to herder, herder to service provider communication. This was a move to transform it into a digital platform. We would later call this platform the Pastoralist Information Center (PIC).
In Karamoja, Pastoralists are quickly embracing mobile technology to connect faster with other stakeholders in the fields of service delivery for livestock health, security, locating water and pasture as well as livestock marketing.
Lokwameri Michael Lokodangorok, a kraal leader in Naregae grazing area tells KDF that we use mobile phones to manage livestock in the wilderness. He says, “We are using phones to locate watering points, secure grazing areas and report livestock diseases. We call the Pian, Upe to ask about water especially now in the dry season. Also about grass. Phones are good for herding. We call the shepherds to bring the animals to the watering point. However most of us do not have phones. Very few of us have phones.”
Benga Titus, a livestock officer in Rupa Sub County of Moroto says mobile phones have enhanced interaction and coordination with pastoralists. “When there is a disease outbreak, or when animals have moved from a location where you wanted to go and carry out an activity. They call you and tell you we are moving to this watering point. They tell you they have moved from one location to the other in search of water or pasture and you plan accordingly. You get information quickly without necessarily having to travel there.”
Mobile phones among pastoralists have facilitated peaceful co-existence and sharing of resources. Ariko Lomuria Lopeikuma, a kraal leader, also a peace monitor in Lokithile says they use mobile phones for mobilizing each other and monitoring grazing patterns. “We use mobile phones to monitor grazing patterns, calling for meetings on migration and for water. Like Locor Apolon, Lochagar, Kobebe and others. We have used phones for peace among the Jie, Matheniko and Turkana. So that when a Jie calls, we can receive to share information about our wellbeing. We can call for meetings about lost cows, donkeys, goats or bulls that are on heat and moving from one herd to the other. Life is now easy. We communicate easily with Jie, Turkana etc. These phones are very good. We now call each other without having to go physically. I now receive instant calls about security. Like I received a call from Jie recently that the animals have been stolen. Then I called the leaders of Jie and Bokora to intercept and stop the animals. I communicate the number of stolen animals to those leaders, and their (animals) colours.” Ngorok Tadeo from Nakapiripirit district says “I call herders from the kraals any time I feel like to check on them and know how they are. We share issues of water points. We want to know where the grass is. I also advise them to avoid stealing while herding.” Ngorok adds that “I also share with them issues of livestock diseases. Especially when there is a call for vaccination. I also call herders to deliver dip for cleaning animals against ticks that cause LOPID and LOUKOI.”
Through the support and innovation of the PIC, we distributed portable solar systems to provide lighting and charging abilities for Pastoralists through information focal point persons. “Solar has helped my community to charge their phones. Even if the phone has no credit, it has power.”Ariko told KDF. “Since we received these phones, especially the solar that we received, it supports us when a cow is giving birth at night or milking. It is also helping women during birth. This solar has helped us so much for charging our phones.” Lokwameri from Naregae explains
CHALLENGES OF MOBILE TECHNOLOGY
Technology has been instrumental in creating effective and efficient work environments and service provision, including creation of socio economic networks. For example technology has made it possible that one can turn to a computer and say Cortana, I want Pizza and it is delivered. However, overtime, we have facilitated and worked with pastoralists to rediscover their strengths and interests, the purpose that defines them, hard work that pastoralists thrive for, smart work that takes them beyond places and overcoming the challenges that the pastoralists face through provision of mobile phones to information focal point persons.
The pastoralists have reported challenges of illiteracy that makes it difficult to fully explore and operate the mobile devices. According to government statistics, Karamoja has a literacy rate of 12% with 88% unable to read and write. This has a huge negative implication on the available technologies for Pastoralists. Lokwameri says “….I don’t know how to read. I cannot read messages. I cannot read people’s names. I just scroll with symbols. We need more training on operation of these phones, so that we can use it very well for sharing information.” Ariko adds that “…We need training to explore more phone usage, like taking pictures and sharing with friends, so that we can take pictures of our cows, water, pasture and share with friends…”
Moreover with the challenges of access to credit/airtime for pastoralists, the recent change in telecommunication regulations imposed by the government of Uganda on loading mobile credit by abolishing the use of credit cards to electronic top ups through easy load has made access to mobile credit for pastoralists burdensome. Lokwameri says “Airtime is a huge problem here. The Toll Free number (provided by KDF) was good. We used to call without credit. Now we have a challenge of loading airtime through easy load. Now you have to send airtime into your phone. But not most of us know our numbers by head. Loading airtime has become difficult.” Ngorok Tadeo adds that “….Credit is a challenge. Sometimes you get 1000 and you speak to one or two people and it’s off. This is the biggest challenge.” Titus told us that “One of the most and biggest challenge right now is loading credit because they have scrapped using scratch cards. Now you have to load using Mobile Money. In places like Rupa, we have only one Mobile Money provider. Even the price of airtime for 500 goes for 600. That is one of the challenges.”
Intermittent telecommunication network and limited electricity distribution across the Karamoja region, and worse in the pastoralist inhabited locations has limited technology use by Pastoralists. Currently, three telecommunication networks are in Karamoja, with Uganda Telecom in two urban towns only. Again, electricity connectivity and distribution is limited to towns and not at all in Kotido and Kaabong districts. One pastoralist told us that “we take our phones to far distances for charging and it takes 2-3 days before it is brought back.” Another said “Sometimes you call one location/grazing area and find all phones are off, either due to network or because the batteries are off. They only come on after a day or two.” Ngorok says “the network is very unreliable here. You request for network, request again and again. Then when you get one bar, you make a call and it is very intermittent, you cannot hear well…until you go to a better location.” In response Lokwameri tells that pastoralists in their grazing area have adopted innovative methods of accessing network. He says “sometimes we get problems of network. It can disappear or we are in grazing areas that have no network. We tie our phones on the empty mineral water bottle and hang it on the tree to grab network.” Ariko emphasizes that “I need like two batteries so that when one is being charged, I am using the other. Like now, I am a Peace Committee chairman. I am receiving a lot of calls. From Moroto DLG, from UPDF, from CSOs. Sometimes we completely have no network and we are in trouble. We are cut out from the world. Some times when the network is down, or when you don’t have credit, you find so many who calleds. Then you start calling back one by one.”
While the huge task lies ahead in finding out what technology best suits Karamoja Pastoralists and what mobile technology ably supports Pastoralism, studies in Tanzania have revealed that individual and technology characteristics are important factors for mobile phone ownership and usage among agro-pastoralists. Further, the findings suggest that effective use of mobile phones presents a huge opportunity for improving information access for agro-pastoralist communities, so supporting their poverty reduction programs. Accordingly, usage of mobile phone technologies can offset some of the effects of neglected rural infrastructure and make rural development sustainable and competitive.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to re-think and re-orient the development push and advances to deploy mobile phones to address business transaction and information sharing and access problems in order to supplement development-related information provided by other systems.
Titus calls for more investments by telecommunication networks to support information sharing and access by pastoralists. He says “service providers should put some telecommunication masts between Kobebe and Nakwapuwa or Lokithile because it is a hilly place.”
Ariko summarizes that “these phones are very good. We need two batteries. We need solar. We need stronger network.”