What you need to know:
Should your people of Abim give up on cattle keeping, yet it is the fulcrum of their livelihoods?
I am writing this open letter to you on behalf of the marginalised Labwor, aka Ethur people, a minority Luo speaking ethnic community of Abim District in Karamoja sub-region.
Mr President, those who live outside Karamoja, particularly outside Abim District, will be forgiven for thinking that Uganda is entirely a peaceful country.
Regardless of the numerous calls to protect the lives and property of the Labwor people of Abim from the scourge of cattle rustling meted on them by their neighbouring Jie of Kotido District, to date the situation keeps getting worse by the day.
Yet, historically the people of Labwor do not practice cattle rustling, they never raid any neighbouring community that should attract any retaliation whatsoever.
Around 1988 when growing up as a little boy in Abim, I used to watch the Jie rustlers drive herds upon herds of cattle from Acholi and Lango sub-regions, going towards Kotido. By that time Abim had been robbed of all its cattle.
A few people used to keep chicken and pigs were hard to come by. But by the mid-1990s, Labwor people started gradual restocking and animals, especially goats, were increasing amid cattle rustling. There have always been intermittent cattle rustling.There is daily loss of animals and killing of innocent people of Labwor by cattle rustlers.
The Labwor used to pride themselves in keeping cattle, but it is today the riskiest investment because there is a neighbouring community raiding them at will. The people work so hard all year round, including saving money in groups which they share at the end of the year to buy cattle to fight poverty, but cattle rustlers come and take them away, leaving them with nothing.
Cattle rustling is the biggest source of poverty as it has rendered the people destitute and helpless. Mr President, you are a proud and successful cattle keeper and it is well known that when you retire, cattle keeping will be your full-time retirement engagement. How will you feel if your neighbours rustle your cows in Kisozi ranch consistently regardless of the efforts you make to create peace with them, including hosting them in your house? As a private citizen, who will you turn to if not government? Claims have been made that soldiers were deployed to control this primitive practice, but one wonders why people keep losing entire kraals of cattle irrecoverably.
About three weeks ago, a man in Ating village in Abim Town Council lost all his 18 cattle to rustlers. A herdsman was taken hostage with the animals, but by God’s grace he was released hours after the rustlers had trekked far away and he had to find his way home through the night.
That same week in Kanu parish, a man who was at his home having supper was shot dead. The cattle rustlers have gone on rampage against the people of Labwor and are armed with guns and arrows. The people are scared that this year, they might not be able to cultivate food as most of them walk about seven kilometres to their gardens and they cannot be safe.Indeed, cattle rustling is the gravest impediment to the development of Labwor and Karamoja as a whole.
Yet with the sale of cattle, people have been able to send their children to school, sell and buy food in times of scarcity, and invest in other economic activities. But all these have been ruined by cattle rustling.
Mr President, should your people of Abim give up on cattle keeping, yet it is the fulcrum upon which their livelihoods swing? Are you comfortable leading a country where part of your citizenry is subjected to suffering by a group of criminals? For decades, Labwor has shed tears and buried her sons and daughters.
How many more victims of cattle rustling should be buried in Abim before government takes action to provide sustainable peace? One of the biggest achievements of your government would be the elimination of cattle rustling and the pacification of Karamoja for meaningful investment. This can be done by establishing a coordinated effort with the elected local leadership.
Mr Okello is a citizen from Abim District. firstname.lastname@example.org.+256782491759