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“Land is now the biggest gun”: Climate change, conflict, and the telling case of Karamoja, Uganda

Karamoja is an arid region in the northeast of Uganda. Annual rainfall varies, but averages roughly 800mm/year, falling unimodally (i.e., rainfall in a single, continuous season traditionally from roughly April to October). Therefore, those living in Karamoja have historically relied on pastoralism and agropastoralism as their primary sources of livelihood. Mobility serves as a hedge to the region’s natural rainfall variability and long dry seasons

Karamoja is also recovering from decades of intense violent conflict. This violence manifested most commonly as large-scale cattle raids between pastoralist groups of different ethnicities. There were a multitude of factors that drove this violence, including a proliferation of small arms which escalated following the fall of Idi Amin’s government in 1979, the commercialization of cattle raiding, and environmental shocks leading to high rates of cattle loss. Collectively, these led to the breakdown of traditional governance systems that had historically governed the raids and, as a result, retaliations and counter-retaliations that grew increasingly violent; at the peak of its violence, Karamoja was one of the most violent places on the planet. 

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For further insights on this topic, explore the three Factbook case studies on communal conflicts in the Karamoja region. 

The Karamoja Region, or ‘Karamoja cluster’, extending over the Kenyan-Ugandan border is frequently described as one of the most inhospitable zones of Africa. Dry conditions and erratic rainfall largely impede agriculture and have favoured the development of a livestock-rearing-economy.

Pastoralist groups in the Karamoja region have been engaged for centuries in cycles of reciprocal livestock raiding, involving inter-communal armed violence. With the increasing availability of automatic weapons and commercialization of livestock raiding, but also with the erosion of traditional conflict mitigation institutions, violence in the region has intensified. This tendency has been further aggravated by frequent droughts and floods, which fuel competition for livestock, pastures and access to water.

Explore the regional case study (below), as well as the local case studies on the Karamoja clusters in Uganda and Kenya.

Communal conflicts in the Karamoja region_ Fcatbook case study