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Opportunists Allegedly Sponsoring Street Beggars in Uganda

In Uganda, the government is forcing beggars off the streets of the capital Kampala. The authorities want them to return to their homes in the north-eastern Ugandan district of Karamoja, one of the country’s least developed areas. The government blames the ongoing influx of poor families into the city on certain politicians and religious NGO’s, which are allegedly exploiting the situation to make money from the migrants. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Peterson Ssendi in Kampala tells us the people of Karamoja are fleeing poverty, insecurity and drought in their home area.

But many government authorities say some political leaders and social organizations are persuading the poor to move to Kampala. They allegedly lure them with promises of food and money. Then, says the government, the politicians and NGOs use the poor people to convince foreign donors to give more money to them.

James William Kinobe is the State Minister for Youth. He says parts of the Karamoja region are at war with neighboring ethnic groups because of cattle rustling. But many of the families now in the capital are from peaceful parts of the area, like Bokora County. Kinobe says vehicles drop the migrants off in the city, and the drivers direct them where to stay. He says the effort seems well organized, and not like the plight of desperate people fleeing a disadvantaged area:

“The way these children were picking [taking] the money was rather professional. All of them were using a [one] particular arm (the right arm) they wave it in front of your face, and when they pick [take] the money you see them running to an adult who is sited [waiting] on the side of the road – which brought out the picture that this was an organized arrangement assisted by politicians.”

Lokwir John, a 12-year-old Karimajog beggar denied this. He told me that he was not attending school and came to Kampala to seek money for food. He said his uncle put him on a bus with other Karamoja families going to Kampala for a better life. He said every week, he sends his money home to his mother in the village.

Legislator Achia Terence Naco also rejects allegations that politicians are behind the migrants’ arrival in Kampala: “Many of them come on their own. Surely the majority -- 99% of these people come on their own.”

Musa Ecweru is Minister for Disaster Preparedness. He accuses religious NGOs of using the migrants to gain greater donor funding for their operations:

“We are also investigating an NGO which we have been reliably informed is responsible of bringing these innocent people here into Kampala and unfortunately, it looks like the finger is even being pointed at some religious leaders within Karamoja. So, what they [religious NGOs] are trying to do is to have these people in the streets of Kampala but what we have condemned is the whole question of trafficking on human beings."

On the streets, desperate Karimajong migrants try to survive, sleeping on verandahs at night and begging by day. Street children are often abused, and girls are vulnerable to rape, sexually transmitted diseases and other dangers.

International organizations such as UNICEF and the Italian NGO, SVI, are helping to re-settle the migrants back in their home villages, and are giving them training in agriculture to help them make a living.

The Ministry of Youth is encouraging the migrants to go back home as well in an effort to keep the capital clean, and to protect vulnerable migrant children.