The Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda is the poorest and least developed region of the country and is host to the worst human development indicators in key areas, including primary school enrollment, maternal and infant mortality, and life expectancy. Periodic and extended droughts and extreme climate variability shape the pastoral and agro-pastoral livelihood strategies practiced in the region. Violent cattle raiding and asset stripping exacerbated by a steady flow of small arms create extreme insecurity for local populations. Alliances among groups and across national and international borders once allowed for drought mitigation through transhumance, but conflict and political restrictions on mobility have led to the collapse of many of these important relationships. Animal disease, growing inequity in animal ownership, climate change, and a national disarmament program have placed further pressures on livestock-based livelihood systems.
The Feinstein Center’s research in Karamoja aims to improve the understanding and inform the programs and policies of national and international stakeholders. We are particularly interested in the dynamic links between conflict and livelihoods, shifts in customary authority, changing gender roles, and varying levels of human security within households. Our research on these issues and the dissemination of our findings are critical at a time when a growing number of international and national stakeholders are expanding their programming into the region.
We have been working in Karamoja since 2005. In this time period, our team has documented and analyzed a wide range of processes that shape livelihoods and contribute to insecurity in the region. In particular, we have examined the cross-border and local trade of weapons, conflict over natural resources, shifts in livelihood strategies over time, the impacts of disarmament on livelihoods and human security, and the effects of changing access to animal milk on childhood nutrition and household livelihoods. We collaborate with a range of international organizations on both formal and informal levels, and work to ensure that our recommendations contribute to policy debates.
Our research projects aim to better understand the underlying social, political, and economic factors contributing to conflict and human insecurity in Karamoja and to recommend possible avenues for intervention. We focus on the response of individuals, households, and communities to the deterioration of pastoral livelihoods, increased food insecurity, environmental degradation and environmental change. Over the past several decades, these stresses have occurred against a backdrop of rising insecurity and the ready availability of small arms, and many young men in particular have adopted increasingly violent livelihood adaptations in response to these pressures. We are examining these trends as well as the national and international policies and interventions.
Under a two-year research project with funding from Irish Aid/Kampala, FIC researchers are studying how groups are using customary mechanisms to respond to the changing social, political and economic environment in Karamoja. In particular, we seek to understand how customary law and community institutions work to curb violence within and between groups, bring accountability to violators, and mend relations among hostile communities. We are examining the institutions, structures and practices of traditional justice and conflict mitigation and how these are viewed by different community members. At the same time we are studying the ways in which customary mechanisms mediate existing and new livelihood systems, chronic poverty, vulnerability, and adaptations to shocks and threats.
Pastoral populations living within the Karamoja Cluster (namely Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia) believe that particular people known as “seers” possess special capacities that enable them to foresee and manipulate the future. With this ability, seers perform an important role within communities, as they are central players in decision making concerning security, raiding and war making, peacemaking, and migratory patterns of people and livestock. Tufts/FIC field research throughout the Karamoja region allows us to document and analyze how seers operate within their own communities and sheds light on the complex nature of their relationships with other tribal groups, both friends and enemies. A photography component illustrates the daily activities of seers and other members of their pastoral communities and draws attention to the environmental and economic challenges that many within the Karamoja Cluster face today. The Seers project ended in 2011, but Tufts/FIC work will continue interactions with seers through 2012 as part of the Irish Aid study mentioned above on customary law, livelihoods, and conflict.
Save the Children in Uganda (SCiUG) has been working in Karamoja since 1996, making it one of the international organizations with the greatest extent of institutional knowledge on the region. SCiUG is currently expanding and diversifying their programs in Karamoja. In 2009-2011, the Tufts/FIC team worked in collaboration with SCiUG on research to improve and inform programming, policy making, and advocacy through the collection and dissemination of qualitative data on key livelihood issues.Changing Roles, Shifting Risks: Livelihood Impacts of Disarmament in Karamoja, Uganda is our first publication under this project.
A collaboration with Save the Children in Uganda, the Milk Matters in Karamoja project complements the Milk Matters study in Ethiopia. This study aims to answer key questions about the changing role of milk in household livelihoods and the diets of young children in Karamoja, with comparisons among the three “livelihood zones” of the region (agricultural, pastoral, and agro-pastoral) as designated by the Ugandan government’s food security strategy. Data indicate that households in all areas have seen a sharp reduction in milk from their own herds, and seek to compensate for this loss with purchased milk. Overall milk supply within households in all areas has drastically reduced due to multiple years of drought, livestock loss, and the erosion of pastoral livelihoods. Both men and women report prioritizing consumption by young children for any milk that can be obtained. A final report was published in October 2011.
The outputs from this phase of research in Karamoja are both formal and informal in nature. In addition to formal reports of research results, we will also be contributing several chapters to an edited volume on Uganda and Sudan, and will be publishing one to two articles in peer reviewed journals. Formal briefings are being held in Uganda and in international capitals for interested audiences, and traveling photography exhibitions bring research findings back to the communities. Further informal outputs throughout the research aim to address emerging issues and requests from partners and stakeholders. These include briefing reports, private briefing sessions on specific issues for relevant actors, advice and collaboration on advocacy efforts, and review of program documents.
- Tradition in Transition: Customary Authority in Karamoja, Uganda
- Executive Summary of Tradition in Transition: Customary Authority in Karamoja, Uganda
- Life in Town: Migration from rural Karamoja to Moroto and Mbale
- Milk Matters in Karamoja
- Adaptation and Resilience
- Comments on Pastoralist Policy
- Foraging and Fighting
- Changing Roles, Shifting Risks
- The Scramble for Cattle, Power and Guns in Karamoja
- Angering Akuju
- Out-migration, Return, and Resettlement in Karamoja, Uganda
Our research in Karamoja aims to bring institutional change at multiple levels. Within Uganda, we hope to inform the emerging strategies of national and international agencies expanding their reach into Karamoja. The movement of new agencies into Karamoja provides both opportunities and challenges, and we seek to inform this process and to highlight some of the important challenges. (For instance, in dialogue with international organizations we stress the importance of conflict analysis in the design and implementation of interventions.)
We also aim to contribute to a more positive and pro-pastoral national dialogue regarding the Karamojong region and people in order to decrease negative stereotypes and to improve national policies aimed at supporting livelihoods appropriate to the region.