A decision by the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) to withdraw 2,700 soldiers from Karamoja sub-region, has thrown the regional leadership and the communities into panic for fear that acts of insecurity might crop up again.
The residents are worried that the UPDF’s withdrawal from the once unstable region might culminate into insecurity instigated by cattle rustlers who are likely to wreak havoc among the communities in the unguarded area.
Government in 2001 deployed about 10,000 UPDF soldiers to beef up security in the volatile region and to embark on the disarmament exercise where more than 43,000 guns were collected from the Karimojong cattle rustlers.
The deployment was informed by the persistent raids on the neighbouring districts, including ambushing vehicles and killing people.
The region then enjoyed some relative calm with less reported incidents of armed raids.
But apparently, more than 2,700 soldiers under the 3rd Division in the various fields have been recalled and redeployed in Somalia for refresher training, according to the army.
For the last one week, several army trucks have been seen ferrying soldiers out of Karamoja sub-region without any replacements.
Speaking about the development, Mr Francis Kiyonga, the Amudat District chairperson, expressed fear that the cattle raiders might take advantage of the army withdrawal from the sub-region to raid people’s cattle.
While government embarked on the disarmament process, an estimated five per cent guns are still in the hands of the Karimojong.
“We are at a critical time right now to complete the disarmament process. It will, therefore, be a miscarriage of the disarmament process if UPDF is withdrawn from Karamoja,” he said.
He reported that there are already fresh fights between the Pokot communities of Uganda and Turkana in Kenya that have seen the renewed flow of guns into Amudat.
He disclosed that there is a black market for bullets at Tukwel Trading Centre in Kenya, about 30kms from Amudat District and that each bullet is sold at Shs5,000.
The 3rd Division comprises of Teso, Sebei, Mt Moroto zone and Busoga sub-region and initially had only 9,000 soldiers. With the withdrawal of the 2,700, the region is left with a total of 6,300 soldiers.
Mr John Nangiro, the Nakapiripirit District chairperson, weighed in on the government decision, saying this is opening insecurity in the region.
“First of all, the public derives comfort in the UPDF presence. Their presence is a symbol of peace to them,” he said amidst fears of fresh rearmament.
Capt Isaac Oware, the UPDF 3rd Division spokesperson, confirmed that the army is withdrawing 2,700 soldiers for another mission in Somalia.
However, he insisted that those withdrawn were replaced.
“People should not panic that the soldiers are going out of Karamoja. They are being replaced so there is no gap left,” he said.
The presence of UPDF in Karamoja has created a greatest impact, especially in restoring peace in the region that was dominated by cattle rustling.
Karimojongs border Turkana and Pokot communities of Kenya, Toposa and Didinga of South Sudan, Oromo of Ethiopia and Jie and Matheniko of Uganda.
These form a cluster of 14 communities in the semi-arid savannah land, with cattle keeping as their main source of livelihood.
The communities have for long launched violent attacks against each other through well planned raids. The communities take pride in owning as many cattle as there is as one’s social and political status is determined by the number of livestock.