This paper examines the parallel but separate trajectories of peace-building, recovery and transformation that have occurred over the past 15 years in northern (Acholi and Lango sub-regions) and northeastern (Karamoja sub-region) Uganda. While keeping in mind the key differences in these areas, we highlight the similarities in the nature of recovery, the continuing challenges and the need for external actors to keep in mind the ongoing tensions and vulnerability that could undermine the tenuous peace.
The initial peace processes in both northern Uganda and Karamoja were largely top-down in nature, with little participation from the affected populations. In Karamoja, the Ugandan military started a forced disarmament campaign in 2006. This was the second such effort in five years and was top-down and heavy-handed. Although many observers gave it little chance of success, by 2013 large-scale cattle raids were infrequent, and road ambushes were almost non-existent. Critically, local initiatives eventually emerged in parallel to the top-down disarmament efforts. Prime amongst these were local resolutions adopted in 2013–2014 that created a system of compensation for thefts, enforced by “peace committees.” In northern Uganda, a top-down, politically negotiated peace process between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda ended two decades of fighting in 2006. The internally displaced person (IDP) camps were disbanded, and thousands of displaced people returned to their rural homes, some because they no other option once assistance in the camps ceased.
One of the most important factors in recovery in Karamoja has been the growth of markets. Traders were reluctant to bring wares to the region during the period of insecurity, and hence goods were few and prices high. Today, most trading centres host markets on a weekly basis, and shops have consistent inventories. In northern Uganda, the biggest driver of recovery has been the return of displaced people to their homes and the resumption of farming. By 2011, crop production had resumed its pre-conflict status as the primary livelihood in the region. In both locations, however, engagement in markets is limited, and many people remain economically marginalized.
Challenges to recovery and long-term stability are similar across the two locations. Both northern Uganda and Karamoja continue to struggle with food insecurity and malnutrition, despite the massive influx of development funds, improved security and expansion of markets. In northern Uganda, the conflict continues to influence household livelihoods. Households that have a member who experienced war crimes are consistently worse off. These continuing problems with food security and nutrition call into question many assumptions about recovery and development. In particular, the idea that peace will bring a natural bounce in economic and household well-being does not appear to hold up in these cases.
Additional structural challenges to recovery in both locations include climate change and environmental degradation, poor governance and corruption, limited opportunities for decent work, livelihood transformation and loss, and conflict over land. These factors reinforce each other and make it extremely difficult for average households to develop sustainable and secure livelihoods.
External interventions often fail to take into account the local priorities and realities in these areas. Many programmes are place based or focus on rural areas, but the population is in flux. This is especially true for young people.
In addition, while many people are doing much better than they were 15 years ago, others are being pushed out of pastoralism and are struggling to achieve diversified and sustainable livelihoods. Overall, while the recent trajectories of recovery in Karamoja and northern Uganda are remarkably similar, the context, livelihoods and challenges in each location are importantly unique. National actors should not seek to derive combined approaches or policies that lump together these two areas. In both cases, the lived reality, history and experiences of the population should be central to designing appropriate, effective and sustainable responses to the ongoing obstacles to a stable peace and full recovery.