Benon Herbert Oluka’s earliest memory, in 1989, is of being carried on the back of his caregiver running through the woods in the dark, with food from a pot in a parcel strapped next to him occasionally spilling on his head.
The attacks by cattle herders on his village in east Uganda often had residents jumping out of their evening baths and fleeing with the little clothing, food and children they could grab. In the years that followed, the Ugandan government partially disarmed the nomads, but never provided other options. So, the problem never went away. And they are back. With a vengeance.
The nomadic herders became part of Uganda’s civil war. Rubbing shoulders with rebels in Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda’s north, and accessing small arms channels in the region, the cattle-herding tribes of Karamoja fought over pasture with one another and the Ugandan army. But Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army drew the military up north, away from the ‘wild east’; today, armed men use Karamoja cattle routes across the borders of Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan.