Since last Monday I have been traveling in the “field” as it is so called. The “field” is development organization lingo that refers to travel to any of the districts outside of the headquarters. In my opinion, it creates this sense of isolation and differentiation between the policy makers that sit behind desks in the developed, civilized, big city and the beneficiaries who live out in the rural, backward, grassland country. So with that said, I will call it travel to the “districts”. The districts of Gulu and Moroto to be specific.
Our first stop for our key informant interviews and survey tests was Gulu in Northern Uganda. For those who know Uganda’s history, Gulu has more than a handful of negative associations. The region has always been on the back burner of development priorities during colonial times and after independence it became a target of both Idi Amin and Yoweri Museveni’s reigns. To combat these atrocities committed against the civilians, several rebels groups were formed, the most notorious being the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony. The civilian populations, and children in particular, during 1990 onward were trapped between the horrid brutalities of the government army on one side and the rebel groups on the other. But when one travels to Gulu today, it is a different world. As you drive past the cornfields and villages, it is hard to imagine the thousands of children fleeing into the city of Gulu to seek safety and avoid abduction. The region, a post conflict zone, holds these dark memories silently in its wind but to a visitor passing through, one sees a town exhibiting growth, healing, and peace. There is an undeniable strength to the residents of this town.
The weekend conveniently occurred on the travel days from Gulu and Moroto. We seized the opportunity to visit Uganda’s most remote and hardest to access national park in Kidepo Valley. There were a few minor bumps in the road (not literally, of course, for the road is covered in bumps and holes and ditches) like a rained out game drive, getting sliding off road and getting stuck in the mud, and no sight of lions, giraffes, or elephants. Despite this, I don’t think there was a moment that went unloved.
On Sunday it was off to Moroto. It was a five hour plus drive through the hills and valleys of the Karamoja region. How beautiful and unique this landscape is! The rolling grassland savannahs coupled by the sights of the traditional Karamojan tribes makes for an exceptional ride. The streets are lined with the members of this ethnicity walking for what seems like miles and miles. These tribes, best known for their nomadic cattle herding lifestyles, have been able to preserve their customs and traditions despite the pressures of development and westernization.
Like Gulu, Moroto and the Karamajo region has a haunted past. As conflict and pastoralism are typically intertwined, the Karamoja people’s livelihood is founded upon the maintaining, herding, and sometimes forcible obtaining of cattle. Guns and armed conflict penetrated the region as army forces clashed with nomadic warriors and as one tribe clashed with the next. People I’ve spoken with have said the regions changed so much since then. Just a few years ago, guns and bullets were sold openly on the streets and markets but fortunately by 2011, the region was fully disarmed. Despite the disbarment, the region still has the highest Human poverty indices in the country and the lowest HDIs in Uganda. One of the world’s worst famine’s struck this region in 1980 killing 21% of habitats and 60% of all the infants. It is still susceptible to food shortages from environmental hardships and therefore the UN World Food Programme is very active and busy in the region. Unlike Gulu, it is more difficult to see the progress here. One must look more carefully for the indicators to find the positive change indicators from the past.