Uganda Peoples Congress

UPC External Bureau Victoria, British Columbia

Cattle Rustling in Northern & Eastern Uganda

Who did it and Why?

07 February 2006

The cattle rustling that occurred in West Nile, Acholi, Lango, Teso, Bugisu, Sebei and Pallisa between 1986 and 1990 will go down as one of the most painful chapters in the history of the country. Over the centuries, and even during the colonial times, nothing of that scale of magnitude and severity had ever occurred. Generally, it is claimed that the Karamojong did it. But the scale of the problem and the fact that Karamoja is today not overflowing with cattle seems to discount that theory.

It is natural and perhaps, even logical for Ugandans to ask some questions about this episode in our history. A number of questions beg to be answered.

For instance:

  1. Who actually organized the rustling?
  2. If it is the Karamonjong, how did they transport cattle hundreds of kilometers from places like Arua to Moroto?
  3. How did the Karamonjong elude the pervasive NRM/A security apparatus?
  4. What did the Karamonjong do with the millions of heads of cattle? Traditionally, they do not sell cattle for cash. If they sold the cattle, what did they do with all that cash?
  5. Was the government aware that the rustling was happening?
  6. If the government was aware of it why did they not intervene?
  7. Did the rustlers know what the long-term impact of taking all cattle would be?
  8. Was this a random occurrence or was it a well-organized scheme?
  9. Can anyone be held accountable for failing to stop the rustling?
  10. Does the international community really care about such things?

These questions will puzzle Ugandan historians for many years. We know some facts for sure and they include:

  • 100&percent; of all the cattle that existed in the areas affected were removed. The crime was systematic, thorough and extremely well-organized.
  • The removal did not only deprive the victims of the nutritional value of cattle, but it impacted a means for facilitating agricultural production. Thus putting the affected people on the path to dependency on charity and government sympathy.
  • Agricultural production (particularly cash-crop growth) has dropped dramatically in the affected areas.
  • The number of cattle in Karamoja is essentially the same as what was there before the rustling occurred.

The NRM regime’s response to the problem was long after all the cattle were gone. The response was a restocking program. As would be expected, the process was riddled with corruption. It is not clear how much of the restocking financing actually reached the affected people. Besides, how could such a program be deemed successful, when 1.6 million affected people are in internally displaced people (IDP) camps. So this raises yet another question, who pocketed the restocking funds which were allocated to IDP residents?

The best we can hope for under these circumstances is to start from scratch and move forward. May the good Lord help us to carry our burdens with humility. Hopefully, we shall see salvation in heaven.

Long live the victims of cattle rustling. Long live Mama miria Kalule Obote. Long live UPC.