In Tapac (northeast Uganda) in the past decade hundreds of people were killed as a result of intertribal conflicts. Peace and security are sorely needed in this rough and vulnerable region.
Tapac is situated in the mountains of Karamoja in the northeast of Uganda. This is where the Tepeth live, seminomadic cattle-breeders. In the scorching heat a group of forty-five young men has gathered under the shadow of a tree. They all sit down in a large circle. For the Tepeth it is all about cows. Cows are the essence of their livelihood, they are the pivot in ceremonies, weddings and all kinds of traditions. If a young warrior marries a young woman he must give cows to his father-in-law. The great number of cows asked is often beyond the means of the young men. Then they carry out raiding parties
If the dowry is too large the young men go on raiding parties.
Cows and mobile phones
“In the morning we begin with porridge. Then we go to the land, open the kraal (an enclosure for cattle) and take out the cows,” says Akorinyang. He is one of the young leaders and approximately 20 years old. He does not know his exact age. Age and time are concepts that have little meaning for the Tepeth. They live with the rising and the setting of the sun. But within their community time does not stand still. Almost all warriors own a mobile phone. Useful for when they are on the move with their cattle in the vast countryside. “We follow our cows and in the evening we return. We milk the cows, feed the calves and take our time to drink a local drink and talk,” continues Akorinyang. The women take care of the children and the house, they fetch drinking water and firewood. They have to walk long distances with bundles of twigs on their heads.
If they steal our cows, we come for theirs with guns.
Steps towards peace
The young Tepeth tell about the time when other groups stole their cows. After such robbery followed retaliation. “When they stole our cows we went out to get theirs,” recounts Lomorimoe. “And that did not happen peacefully, there was a lot of gunfire.” Special meetings were arranged to bring the groups together and have them talk things out. Akorinyang tells about a meeting with groups from the Naoi-parish, situated west of the city of Moroto. The young men talked and agreed not to steal each other’s cattle again. “We have become friends and have exchanged phone numbers. It is difficult to shoot a friend, or to be shot at by a friend,” says Lomorimoe.
We have become friends. And you don’t shoot a friend.
“We have made a major step.” Stolen cows have even been returned. Akorinyang: “It is important that all Karamojong put an end to the violence and stop stealing cattle. Only if we have peace we can begin to trade.” But real peace can only be achieved if all Karamojong renounce violence, when all warriors understand the importance of peace. “That takes time,” is what the men say.
Peace will come when the warriors understand the importance of it.