PLANTING THE SEEDS OF PEACE
Cows are central to the lives of Uganda’s Karamojong – and equally important to the neighbouring Iteso.
For centuries, the Karamojong brought their cattle each dry season to Teso in search of water. Many conflicts occurred as a result of arguments at watering points – a particular problem during periods of drought.
When the Karamojong acquired guns from fleeing soldiers at the end of Idi Amin’s rule in 1986, the Iteso could not cope with the disastrous levels of cattle rustling which resulted. When they called on the new government to send in the Ugandan army the violence quickly escalated, and continued unabated for seven years.
Eventually the army was withdrawn, and whilst cross-border incidents gradually reduced, tension and hostility remained.
CHIPS was invited into this situation by leaders from both sides. Starting with four Ugandan team members and a plot of land in the disputed border area, they set up seed loan schemes to address the imminent threat of famine, providing food security and taking advantage of seasonal rains.
Once food security had been established, the communities returned to the original problem of water. With the help of British charity Christian Engineers in Development (CED) over the next 5 years CHIPS worked to relieve this major source of tension.
Two mountain springs were capped by the Water Team members, and over 40 hand-dug wells were sunk in Teso, with locals helping engineers to dig. The CED Water engineer trained local well technicians to install and maintain the pipe-work and pumps to ensure the sustainability of these wells. Eight former cattle-dams were repaired in Karamoja, using willing hands from both sides of the border and reducing the need for Karamojong cattle to enter Teso.
Fifty miles of roads were restored on both sides of the border, supervised by expert mechanical engineers. This in turn reduced the number of cross-border incidents of theft and provocation through greater transparency in the area.
Young cattle-herders were supported with training as community vets, who provided veterinary care for the two populations’ animals, with supervision from our Veterinary team leader. Diseased cattle from Karamoja entering Teso had been another source of tension between the two tribes, so it was vital to address this issue at the heart of the culture.
To break the cycle of conflict and poverty CHIPS worked hard to improve food security for everyone in the region: the CHIPS Agricultural team developed a demonstration garden and tree nursery, continued with seed loan schemes and offered practical help and training to people wanting to grow their own vegetables, fruit trees and other crops.
The team also developed training and seeds for growing medicinal plants, and preparing and administering natural (herbal) medicines in an area devoid of healthcare facilities. This work provided an alternative to both traditional healers and western medicine – neither of which were affordable.
However, there are always those who do not want peace with their enemies, and CHIPS was about to be faced with the ultimate test…