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Traditional community methods could provide solutions to conflicts in East Africa

25 August 2009

Greater use of traditional community based systems, such as elders’ arbitration councils, could help resolve long standing conflicts between communities in East Africa, Minority Rights Group International demonstrates through its latest briefing on the conflict in Karamoja and Teso in Uganda.

The briefing to be launched on 25 August 2009 explains that the failure of state solutions to resolve conflict in these areas and the lack of trust by community representatives of national systems emphasise the need to use traditional responses that have been tried and tested within these communities for several centuries.
‘Both communities in Karamoja and Teso have their own systems of negotiation and compensation when resolving conflicts. Reviving and strengthening these systems can significantly contribute to reducing the levels of conflict in these areas,’ says Simon Nangiro, Executive Director of Karamoja Agro-Pastoralist Development Programme, Uganda.

The briefing has been compiled after extensive research and consultations with community leaders in northeast Africa and provides a rare insight into the problems faced by communities in Karamoja and Teso.
Communities in both Karamoja and Teso, traditionally pastoralists, strive for amicable relations and depend on each other for survival in harsh environmental conditions. Government imposed restrictions on their traditional way of life, shortage of resources, problems involving cattle rustling and border disputes have led to increasing conflict between the groups in recent times.

For instance, for almost half of the year, Karamoja is in drought. This was traditionally dealt with by moving to other places with greener pastures and water. In such times Karamojong relied on the Iteso for water and pasture during the dry season; the Iteso too, relied on the Karamojong for oxen to plough their land. Attempts by the state to settle these groups, undermining their pastoralist lifestyle, and the creation of boundaries have negatively affected these reciprocal practices that previously governed relations and promoted trust between the two groups.

Both areas also suffer from extreme poverty – the poverty rate in Karamoja is 82 percent and in Teso 66 percent.

‘The easy availability of small arms has aggravated the conflict and both communities are finding it increasingly difficult to manage with the rise in violence,’ Nangiro adds.

MRG through its research in East Africa has recognised the need to develop and strengthen traditional community mechanisms to reduce and avoid conflicts. In 2008 MRG helped set up a Regional Elders Council tasked with developing traditional practices and systems to resolve conflicts amongst communities in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

Download full report

Notes to Editor

  • ‘Resolving conflicts using traditional mechanisms in the Karamoja and Teso regions of Uganda’ will be launched in Karamoja on 25 August 2009. Copies of the report can be obtained from MRG’s Kampala office (contact details are below).
  • Interviews can be arranged with the following:
    Simon Nangiro, Executive Director of Karamoja Agro-Pastoralist Development Programme.
    Tel: +256 772 472 474
    Email: [email protected]
    MRG experts in London are also available for interviews.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

For further information or to arrange interview please contact MRG’s press office in London +442074224205 or +447870596863 or in Kampala on +256 312266832 (Office) +256 782748189 (Cell).