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The decline of global extreme poverty continues, but has slowed. The deceleration indicates that the world is not on track to achieve the target of less than 3 per cent of the world living in extreme poverty by 2030. People who continue to live in extreme poverty face deep, entrenched deprivation often exacerbated by violent conflicts and vulnerability to disasters. Strong social protection systems and government spending on key services often help those left behind get back on their feet and escape poverty, but these services need to be brought to scale.

The United Nations estimates that more than 700 million people, or 10% of the world population, still live in extreme poverty – and there’s a gender disparity in terms of people living in extreme poverty – with 122 women living in extreme poverty for every 100 men in the age group 25-34. These are surviving on less than US$1.90 a day. In most situations, having a job does not guarantee a decent living. In fact, 8 per cent of employed workers and their families worldwide lived in extreme poverty in 2018.

Poverty has many dimensions, but its causes include unemployment, social exclusion, and high vulnerability of certain populations to disasters, diseases and other phenomena which prevent them from being productive. Growing inequality is detrimental to economic growth and undermines social cohesion, increasing political and social tensions and, in some circumstances, driving instability and conflicts.

According to the Ugandan government, Karamoja is the region with the highest poverty indicators in the country with 61% of the total population of 1.2 million living in poverty, against the national average of 21%. Karamoja sub region has decades-long history of conflict, only coming to relative peace after the end of a government disarmament program in 2010. Its population are predominantly pastoralists, and experience the worst forms of inequality with the rest of the country, especially through the poverty dimension.

Target five of the sustainable development goal one aims to measure the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations against exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic,social and environmental shocks and disasters.

Change experience story

Across pastoralist communities, the main climate changes which have been perceived include more erratic and reduced amounts of rainfall, rise in temperature and prolonged and frequent periods of drought. What these changes have meant therefore is that pastoralists are having to move longer distances, more frequently. Increased external pressures limiting pastoralist mobility especially negative government perception, new land uses, increased administration borders and conflict.

Karamojong of northeastern Uganda are predominantly pastoralists, with a rich cultural tradition that is only starting recently to face erosion from external influence in comparison to other Ugandan society. Livestock keeping is the core of the economy, as the little amounts of rainfall are erratic. As such, these livestock are kept mostly under a transhumance system – where herders move with the livestock from one place to another to access pastures.

For the Karamojong peoples, Etamam, which literally means ‘sending the message’ has over time developed into an elaborate mechanism and process of resource access and use by pastoralists in times of among others, climatic stress in order to ensure access to critical resources. It helps in enabling a delicate, complex balance of relations – ensuring that even in times of conflict, pastoralist resources are an important factor for peace and cooperation.

The Kobebe grazing area in Moroto district is a bio-diverse expanse of pastoralist grazing territory which hosts many Karamojong groups – Matheniko, Jie, Dodoth, Bokora and Turkana of Kenya in the drier seasons of the year. It lies southeast of Kotido district, south of Kaabong district at Kotein, north of river Apule in Moroto district, east of Napak district and west of the Kenyan/Turkana border. The Kobebe grazing area has over 70 distinct grasslands, served by about 22 watering points with Kobebe dam as the main watering point.

Owing to its critical role in sustaining the aforementioned pastoralist groups, a number of actors have wide ranging interests in the Kobebe grazing area (KGA). Some of the principal actors in regard to the grazing area include the districts local governments of Moroto, Kotido, Napak; the Turkana County Government and Turkana sub counties, nongovernmental organisations, community animal health workers, political leaders, herdsmen, security forces including the police, Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, Local Defence Unit; Opinion Leaders, Elders, Peace Committees.

Because of this diversity of actors, engagements in natural resource access in the grazing area are of a multifaceted nature, implemented within the means and practises available to different actors – hinging on the traditional practise of Ekokwa/Etem, a traditional set up for the discussion of various issues.

In the context of the traditional practice of Etamam – a mechanism and practise through which access to pastoralist resources is negotiated, accessed and managed is central, if not hinged, at the local level to the access of resources, in spite of the varying interests and influences over resources in the Kobebe grazing area. Kobebe is ‘land, grass, water and people’

During a dialogue we held in Rupa sub county in Moroto district in 2013, one of the participants, an elderly woman talking about the problems faced by pastoralists and the rest of the community in respect to the land under the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said ‘Kobebe is the water of peace’. She continued that this water has to be left for different communities to access, most of whom – with the exception of the Turkana had been erstwhile adversaries in Karamoja’s cattle rustling conflicts – prior to the end of the disarmament programme.

The motivation for key stakeholders, primarily of the different groups of people, to maintain the peace lies in the need to continue accessing and sharing of resources in this rich rangeland, on the one hand, and in the dam whose reconstruction, after it had got silted and deserted for decades, started only in 2008, on the other.

During a debrief session at a simulation exercise we asked one negotiation partner ‘what does Kobebe mean to you?’ and he responded in a straightforward manner ‘Kobebe means land, grass, water and people’, we immediately linked this with the popular, shared value of Kobebe resources – and its importance to the lives of the pastoralist groups that access them.

Contrary to subaltern discourses which are quick to dismiss pastoralists as people whose lives and minds revolve around the cow, the centrality of human life, and the need to secure it through access to resources was very clear during this research. Pastoralists quickly indicated that the sharing of resources – and their management are important for human life. Said an elderly man at a group discussion:

“Kobebe dam is for everyone. The Jie, Matheniko, Dodoth, Bokora, Turkana. It welcomes everyone as long as we uphold peace. Thirst does not know status, tribe, and ranks. When it hits us, we all speak one language. It can kill. This water when well managed and maintained will push our animals for more 4 months.”

The search for water is identified as the main push factor for pastoralist mobility. In the simulation exercises, the participants explained that animals and people can survive on water alone for some time but they cannot survive on grass without water for a single day. During the time of writing this paper, the grass around the dam had been depleted. Livestock had moved to distant places in search of pasture, but returned in the evening to drink water at the dam.

Pastoralists understand the significance of water and pasture in the survival of animals; scarcity of these resources pushes pastoralists to move to the neighbouring places to negotiate for resources. Etamam is the mechanism that enables it. Etamam – the mechanism and process of negotiation for resources.

Etamam in Ngakarimojong simply means ‘message’ or denotes the practice of sending a message to another individual or group of individuals. Nevertheless, among Karamojong pastoralists, the term Etamam has come to describe an important institutionalised mechanism to communicate the need for accessing resources elsewhere in times of need.

‘‘There used to be Etamam long ago and even now. There are mainly two things for which Etamam is sought; lack of pasture and water. Long ago, this was done in such a way that ‘Ekokwa’ (meeting) was called for and a team leader or secretary for this case got ‘Ekaraan’ like these days, shepherds were sent in four ways. Moving in different directions, they got to different communities in search of water and pasture and they come back later to report what happened an which directions they got the resources from.’’

Pastoralism thrives on mobility and Etamam is the vital mechanism ensuring the successful, conflict-free movement of pastoralists in accessing resources. The practice has been preserved since time immemorial and continues to be upheld by the young generation as well to aid the survival of the animals ensuring equitable access and the sustainable use of these resources.

Not ‘whether’, but ‘how’

The most important aspect observed during simulation exercises is that the hosting community, in this case the Matheniko community, expects to give access to resources to communities paying (or sending) them Etamam. This is understandable because these are all communities of pastoralists, strongly adhering to pastoralist practices and attributing high value to their livestock. In pre-negotiation sessions, we observed that the participants shared, and understood the importance of hospitality, often noting that since they are not in control of the weather, they needed to be hospitable. The most important question was therefore not whether there would be admission, but rather how both peaceful relationships and the limited natural resources would be managed:

Etamam strengthens traditional governance. The visiting community is taken through the governing rules for example, and how regular meetings will be run. Then the rules are given like particular grazing zones shown, no burning grass, no stealing animals, watering animals at designated places, collective monitoring water in the dam.

Together we succeed, alone we fail

The hosting group feels obligated to offer resources to its guests. In the case of the Turkana, this sharing of resources is even “fixed” in the pastoralist calendar. Carried out in group reflections, this is transmitted from the elderly to the young and across all age groups and other demography. The entire Matheniko community is aware of the burden meted by the severity of the sun on the Turkana that is theirs to share. This feeling of mutual indispensability exists in every negotiation for access to resources. In a post-simulation debriefing, this is what a Matheniko member reflected: ‘‘The breast of the Turkana [from which they feed] is Matheniko. They should be telling us right now that for them to survive drought from their land and for their animals not to suffer the drought the first place they step is Moroto. Even if hunger strikes them so hard, it’s the Matheniko who are their immediate help. The Matheniko is (everyone)
around them here in Moroto.’’

A youthful member in a negotiating during simulation exercises added: ‘‘For us we’ll give water to the Turkana. As for Etamam it is better for them to first come and meet our elders, he cannot come to us the young children, we shall tell them to go and seek guidance from the elders like. They take Etamam to them. Most times when these people come to our elders, they ask them why they came around and they are clearly able to tell them why they came, which is that there’s prolonged drought in Turkana, and so they would like to get help from their brothers the Matheniko to allow them graze.’’

The need to maintain relationships

While humanitarian considerations for granting access to enquiring pastoralist groups forms the main motivation, many Karamojong know that it is important to maintain existing relationships. For the Matheniko, their recollections of the 1974 Lokiriama Peace Accord is a key point of reference, from which inspiration is drawn to continue building on peace. Sharing natural resources is part of the effort to maintain these relationships.

Bringing together

Throughout history, including Karamoja’s tumultuous decades between the 1980s and 2010, traditional institutions and practices held communities together. The centrality of natural resources, in particular pasture and water to the lives of pastoralists was important in this time. In part because of the need to share resources, Karamojong communities have seen the importance of resolving these conflicts. This has become even more important as the challenges related to climate change have increased recently. Etamam, implemented through longstanding institutions and practices such as the council of elders and Ekokwa/Etem (other dialogue platforms in the communities) and akiudakin have developed the resilience of Karamojong communities to the vagaries of climate change.

What the experience of the Karamojong shows us is that it is necessary to undertake the practice of sharing resources, and establishing peaceful mechanisms for doing this. In Karamoja, a comprehensive set of institutions, processes, and mechanisms amongst pastoralists are created and have been sustained over time to enable this access during times of stress. This way, the negative impacts of climate change can better be handled – as the collective resilience of our communities is increased. Like Karamojong pastoralists say, ‘faced with climate change, together we succeed, alone we fail.’


By Longoli Simon Peter

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