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Turkana herders defy Museveni order, cross over to Uganda

Rift Valley
 A herder leads his flock across Kainuk bridge in Turkana South. [File, Standard]

Drought has forced pastoralists in some parts of Turkana County to cross over to neighbouring Uganda in search of pasture. 

This is despite President Yoweri Museveni’s order last year that herders vacate the Karamoja sub-region.

The latest move sparks fears of arrest but herders from drought-hit Turkana on Sunday said they were saving their cattle from dying following an acute shortage of pasture and water.

Herders said they would rather face arrest than watch their livestock starve to death.

At least 30 herders were arrested and jailed before pastoralists were banished from Uganda last year.

A joint security team has been cracking down on the Turkana pastoralists grazing in the Karamoja sub-region following President Museveni's executive order in May 2023, asking Turkana pastoralists to return to Kenya in a bid to curb gun violence in the region.

Sources said security forces have a hard time implementing the orders after the Matheniko community shielded the Turkana herdsmen during security operations in Moroto district.

Sources said, the Ugandan security forces resolved to impound cattle belonging to Turkana pastoralists to force them to surrender guns in exchange for their animals.

Authorities in Turkana said at least 10,000 cattle belonging to Kenyan pastoralists have crossed the border to Uganda.

"We are living in fear of arrests but we have to save our livelihoods. Turkana women who used to wear bangles around their necks were forced to remove them so that they could not be easily identified by the security forces," EKeno Lomer, a harder said.

Keno said they were forced to cross over to Uganda due to the biting drought in several parts of Turkana county.

He regretted that he lost five cattle due to water and pasture scarcity, forcing him to move with the herd to Moroto.

Lomer appealed to the Ugandan government to allow them to graze in the Karamoja region, promising to abide by the laws in the country.

Anthony Lobok, another herdsman revealed that he left his cattle with a friend in Matheniko after Museveni ordered them to leave Uganda and he was now returning to the neighbouring country to look after the herd.

"I am urging herders not to cause havoc in the neighbouring community because that would attract security interventions and lead to our eviction," he said. 

John Robert Adupa, the LCIII Chairperson of Lotisan Sub County in Moroto district noted that the Kobebe grazing area is currently hosting over 20,000 cattle belonging to herdsmen in Kotido, Moroto, and the neighbouring Turkana in Kenya.

Adupa said that although there was relative peace, there were rising cases of insecurity between the Turkana and the herdsmen in the neighbouring country.

He disclosed that they cannot keep away the Turkana herdsmen because most of them have a direct connection with the Matheniko cluster in Moroto, the main host.

Adupa appealed to the Ugandan and Kenyan governments to find better ways of handling conflicts to ensure peaceful coexistence.

Major Isaac Oware, the UPDF 3rd Division Spokesperson said the last group of Turkana herdsmen were flushed out in early April 2024 but several Kenyan pastoralists had sneaked back with their cattle.

Oware said the joint security forces are closely monitoring the movement of Turkana herdsmen and their activities.

He disclosed that they have already established areas where the Turkana herdsmen have settled and they will be flashed out if they clash with the host community.

Oware said they are engaging Turkana county leaders and elders who have connections with the Matheniko cluster in Moroto to discuss how best the matter can be handled.

In January 2024, Ugandan leaders from Karamoja and their Kenyan counterparts endorsed a resolution calling on President Museveni to review his order banning Turkana pastoralists from Karamoja.

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