This new policy briefing summarises research led by communities on the Uganda–Kenya border, facilitated by local organisations Karamoja Development Forum and Friends of Lake Turkana, with support from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). A cross-border team – a mix of formally and traditionally schooled elders, youth, women, and men – inquired into long-standing threats faced by their communities. Large-scale and violent cattle raiding, armed robbery of homesteads, attacks on roads, human rights abuses, arbitrary killings, and violence against women are widespread and growing. There are also broader insecurities that fuel distrust in government, such as failure to secure the people’s rights to the land, absence of any but the most basic essential services, and inadequate justice.

Karamoja and Turkana communities feel that their people and institutions are blamed for the prevalence of raiding, armed robbery, and violence against women. And with the Government of Uganda labelling armed pastoralists as terrorists, people from both sides feel they have no right of recourse against arbitrary abuse and killings.

Internationally funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) work on resolving conflicts between communities but can offer little leverage over the misgovernance that fuels the conflicts. As one elder put it, ‘the peace that comes on wheels is not peace’ .

Evidence shows that weak cooperation with communities fails to build trust and cooperation, and hampers the search for solutions. Security agencies make disarmament decisions behind closed doors. Peace-building NGOs bring pre-packaged interventions. Political representatives pursue personal and party interests. None supports local people and their institutions to hold governments to account for failures to uphold national laws, bilateral agreements, or regional protocols.

Key takeaways from this briefing note include the following:

  • Pastoralists in the borderlands of Karamoja and Turkana describe five sources of insecurity that feed one another in a vicious circle aggravated by the international border: (1) large-scale cattle raiding; (2) armed robbery of homesteads; (3) violence against women and girls; (4) human rights abuses; and (5) community-to-community revenge attacks.
  • Although the violence is often attributed to intercommunal conflict, its root cause is misgovernance – the failure of authorities to work with communities on basic rule of law – and the reliance of national governments on a military solution to borderland instability.
  • Communities in the borderlands see the need to act both locally and regionally, using regional agreements and frameworks to hold governments to account.
  • Governments and civil society need to integrate pastoralists and their customary institutions into the search for solutions.

To read the full policy briefing document, please visit the IDS website, where this research was originally published.