The Observer (Kampala)

8 November 2012

Uganda: Janet's Karamoja Story Has Both Successes and Failures

opinion

The media have for some time been awash with stories of Janet Museveni turning around Karamoja, ever since she was appointed state minister for Karamoja Affairs. Since January 2009, state spin doctors, opportunists, roadside travellers and armchair writers have burnt the midnight oil trying to paint a picture, albeit with a lot of naivety, of a Karamoja so transformed.

A close look at key areas in Karamoja will tell you that it is only the occupants of her 15 or so vehicle motorcade, politicians and the not-so-analytical that will say Karamoja is different from then, and even so, as a direct result of her work.

Probably most of her efforts have gone into promoting agriculture, geared first at demobilising pastoralist communities but only continuing to reap annual food scarcities that have defined Karamoja for a long time.

Whereas achievements have been made in regard to security, to say that the Karimojong and their neighbours are secure is very far from the truth. Moreover, to say that the disarmament exercise succeeded singly because of the First Lady's efforts is more of a big fallacy.

Achievements have been registered since the start of the disarmament programme eight years before her appointment, with efforts from the military, civil society organisations and the Karimojong themselves.

Hypothetically, I believe the Karimojong herders are feeling more insecure now, with more incidents of cattle thefts reported than in 2009. Janet Museveni's ministerial tenure can be described both as a story of success and noticeable failures, and it's only the former that has been illustrated in the public domain for years. I will dwell on the flipside.

A visit at any time to Naro Apotiyaro village in the backyard of the plush State lodge in Morulinga, Napak district, will shock you with signs of death from hunger and poverty. This is where the minister executes most of her Karamoja missions.

With a First Lady for minister, many expected so many things, but several years down the road, the corrupt, though a mite scared, are thriving, maternal mortality rates are still the highest in the country, hospitals are still bereft of drugs and women still use wheelbarrows as ambulances.

Probably the greatest wish of all Ngikarimojong is that a deliberate infrastructural programme, mainly targeting roads, is undertaken by the government. Without roads, Karamoja remains hugely isolated.

With Janet Museveni initially expected to deliver on the promises of her party and the President, it is amazing how Karamoja is inaccessible to the rest of the country because of bad roads. Roads would ease access, facilitating business and drive development. Maybe we expected too much.

Yes, there have been photo opportunities and launches of this and that, but the world ought to know that Karamoja hasn't changed that much. It is a sub-region of many complexities, probably the reason why there is never one roadmap to its development, with stakeholders always ensconced in Kampala hotels, consulting and strategising.

Karamoja's complexities require real down-to-earth individuals without a flywhisk or white gloves; individuals who will leave preaching to their pastors and embark on the real job.

And all said and done, it is likely that the minister's tenure will mostly be remembered for her motorcades, the tight security that accompanied her presence, inaccessibility and the flights into the region to leapfrog over the muddy roads and bridgeless rivers.

Of course she will also definitely be remembered for Nadunget modern village. However, having said that, we still need to give Mama, as Janet Museveni is popularly referred to, the credit she has earned.

The author is a Research and Advocacy Assistant working in Karamoja with the Refugee Law Project.

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