News / Africa

Disappearing Herds Threaten Culture, Livelihoods in Uganda

A boy tends goats in Karamoja, Uganda, where traditional animal herding is giving way to agriculture, August 27, 2012. (VOA - H. Heuler)
A boy tends goats in Karamoja, Uganda, where traditional animal herding is giving way to agriculture, August 27, 2012. (VOA - H. Heuler)
KARAMOJA, Uganda — Uganda's pastoral Karimojong people have long relied on cattle to survive. In an effort to wean them off food aid, however, they are being encouraged to embrace agriculture - a practice that clashes with their culture and livelihoods.

For centuries, the Karimojong people of northeastern Uganda have herded their cattle across the sun-baked plains. They grew food when they could, but it was milk, blood and meat that carried them through the long years of drought, as people followed their animals from one watering hole to the next.

But the cattle are disappearing fast, and with them the Karimojan way of life. With help from the Ugandan government and its partners, people increasingly are embracing agriculture, and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Pastoralism versus agriculture

Karamoja-based researcher Karol Czuba said there are a number of reasons that people here are dealing with a marked decrease in the size of cattle herds.

“The number of livestock in the region has reduced, as a result of both natural factors and raiding, which was really very commonly practiced in the last few decades," said Czuba. "This, combined with constant government pressure on people to give up their traditional way of life altogether. There has been very little support for people who wish to continue to be pastoralists.”

Permanent Secretary from the office of the Prime Minister Puis Bigirimana has denied that the Ugandan government favors agriculture over pastoralism. He said agricultural support programs are designed to wean the Karimojong off 30 years of food aid.

“We are saying that it should not continue like that, because that is keeping people in perpetual poverty. And we believe that as much as they love their cows, they can still do agriculture,” said Bigirimana.

Reasoning behind shifted emphasis

Czuba said the Ugandan government has good reasons for discouraging pastoralism. Among them, he said, is the local habit of cattle raiding, with heavily armed raiders often crossing the border with neighboring Kenya.

“It is not in [the government’s] interest to have people within these territories who go across borders to raid other people, and to have people within their borders who have guns," said Czuba. "The traditional agro-pastoralist or pastoralist existence, which this region has known for centuries, is certainly not in line with the needs of modern states.”

In Napak, in southern Karamoja, some men still herd cows and goats through the dusty streets. But for 56 year-old Michael Ooyan, those days are over.

He and his village used to be rich in cattle, he said, but now the cows are gone. Ooyan blames Kenyan raiders, and government disarmament programs that took away the villagers’ guns.

No one knows how many thousands of people have died over the years at the hands of raiders. Aid worker Adam Riddell, with the NGO Samaritan’s Purse, said many people have sold their animals to avoid the risk.

“It is like having a big target in your house, and when raiders come and take all your cows, you are left with nothing,” said Riddell.

Persistent drought problems

But he said the Karimojong lifestyle evolved for a reason. Rains in the region often fail, making agriculture an unreliable option. He said people who have given up their animals will still need food aid during the next dry year.

“What do you turn to when there is no agriculture? Your animals. But if, over the past three years, you have gotten rid of all your animals, what do you turn to? Aid. I do not know what else. We have a long way to go in getting to the place where the Karimojong are ready for that shock if the rains do not come. If that happens even next year, big problems,” said Riddell.

It has been decades since the Karimojong have been self-sufficient. Riddell said dependence on aid is eroding their self-respect.

“There is a real lack of dignity, which does not get talked about much. They are tough, tough people, but they have been neglected for a long time, they are the black sheep of Uganda, and nobody really knows what to do with them. And maybe losing all of their cows is kind of a cultural identity crisis.”

Michael Ooyan agrees.

Many Karimojong ceremonies used to revolve around giving or killing animals, he said, including weddings, harvest festivals and gatherings of elders.  Now, he said, he is afraid young people are beginning to forget their culture.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mike from: California
September 03, 2012 1:15 PM
Poverty continues in Africa because of bad governance which allows low productivity, low value labor to persist. Subsistence agriculture is essentially rural poverty anywhere it is practiced. Only by building higher value labor requirements can people move out of this poverty. I know of no counter-example except in rich countries which tax others to provide subsidies for "cultural" reasons, like in Switzerland.

In Response

by: xionghao from: China
September 11, 2012 5:55 AM
I think the only way changing the situation is education.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid