A warrior who wants to write 

Stefan Lock
Delegation of the European Union





Bordering Kenya to the West and South Sudan to the North, the Karamoja sub-region of northeast Uganda spreads out as a dry savannah landscape interspersed by insular mountains. The mountains dominate the landscape over distances of fifty or more kilometres on a clear day. It is a landscape of coarse beauty for visitors, and many see future tourist potential. For the time being, Karamoja is still one of the remotest places in Uganda, with poor infrastructure and a significant development gap vis-à-vis the rest of the country. Approximately 82% of the Karamoja population live in poverty (defined as less than US$1/day), while the Ugandan national poverty rate is now at 31%. Its traditional inhabitants, the Karamojong people, adapted to the wide dry grasslands and the extended seasonal water shortage with a nomadic, pastoralist lifestyle supplemented by violent raiding and cattle rustling far into the more fertile farmlands of Uganda and the neighbouring countries Kenya and South Sudan.

“Karamoja was for a long time considered a conflict zone with a heavy military and police presence to suppress the violent raiding and ambushes.”

Firearms, the leftovers from armed conflicts throughout the region, used to be in ample supply and were frequently used. Karamoja was for a long time considered a conflict zone with a heavy military and police presence to suppress the violent raiding and ambushes. The Government of Uganda and international development partners have over the years offered peaceful and more sustainable alternatives to cattle theft and pillage, with increasing success. The introduction of more sedentary lifestyles, better access to education and health services, along with economic alternatives to traditional pastoralism, have given people in the region more possibilities. However, such transition takes time and presents manifold challenges. For the traditional Karamojong warriors and their families, it comes with a complete change of life-style.

“ 'Now we are persons, like you', he explains matter-of-factly.“

Lokung Loyo has no regrets, though. Looking back at the past, his comment is simply: “We were like wild animals”. Lokung and his fellow warriors would go without food or shelter for days when camping and raiding in the bushlands. Things are different now. He has acquired farming, literacy and other life skills. “Now we are persons, like you”, he explains matter-of-factly. He sits together with his son, Lokung Apagra, and some other former members of his rustling gang. Although maintaining a bit of distance from the predominantly female and younger learners group I came to meet in Nakroreta village in Kotido district, Lokung Loyo and his former warriors nevertheless follow our group discussion intently and with wit and comment. An old tree in the fi eld off ers the only shade and is the traditional meeting place.

“Participants appreciate the practical value of being able to understand basic text and numbers.”

For two years, Loyo and his former rustling gang have been participating in non-formal training to improve their understanding of farming and more sedentary animal raising. In addition they learned basic literacy and numeracy. The project was implemented by DVV International, the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association, specialising in adult literacy and lifelong learning, together with local partners. The project aimed at reducing poverty among marginalised groups in all districts of Karamoja. It focused on skills training, income generation and livelihood improvement.

Basic numeracy and literacy skills were an integral part of the curriculum. Participants appreciate the practical value of being able to understand basic text and numbers. Equally important, such basic literacy skills have an obvious eff ect on self-appreciation and identity, supporting overall learning success. The positive effect shines through in almost every personal testimony we listened to. Still, it is not an easy task, and Cesar Kyebakola, our local project manager, freely admitted that it is quite a challenge to keep the former warriors interested in training and motivated to take on new activities. Large areas in Karamoja are very suitable for crop agriculture with the appropriate techniques. Changing traditional behaviour nevertheless requires learning and practical experience, and obviously patience on all sides. With the skills the participants learned from DVV International, they should have better options to provide for themselves. The programme also entailed savings and loan schemes which are essential in providing minimal start-up capital for household businesses and self-employment. While being an ex-warrior comes with loss of pride and often hesitation towards modernisation, Lokung Loyo tells us that when his peers saw what he was learning, they also wanted to become a part of it.

About the author

Dr. Stefan Lock 
is Head of Section for Economic Growth at the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Uganda. Previous EU assignments brought him to Bangladesh and Laos. Before joining the European Commission, he was desk offi cer for education and vocational training in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

EU Delegation to Uganda  
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