Full Professor | Riara University
Sub-Saharan Africa

Preventing Atrocities Among Pastoral Communities Through Disarmament: A Study of Karamoja Cluster, Horn of Africa

Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

This research looks at the emerging challenges and new ideas as far as prevention of conflict is concerned, especially concerning disarmament – looking at the different local strategies that both the government and the local authorities need to use.

Preventing Atrocities Among Pastoral Communities Through Disarmament: A Study of Karamoja Cluster, Horn of Africa (2022)

mixed methodspolicy brief
This report uses an integrative literature review to illuminate the trends and patterns shaping conflict and violence. It also explores appropriate mechanisms for conducting disarmament to prevent atrocities in the Cluster. Desktop research is combined by interviews with participants of the RECSA-organized Cross Border Leaders Conference held in Entebbe, Uganda, on March 24–25, 2021.

Desk ResearchInterviews
This research was funded by the Stimson Centre in the USA


Thank you to hello@acume.org, who conducted an initial interview with Francis Onditi, and whose efforts have helped to make these insights accessible. 

Key points

  • The government machinery to conduct disarmament (local authorities, police) has not worked, and so this study highlighted the significance of human-to-human bonds, because communities from both sides of the border are in contact

This study was part of the atrocity prevention group, which is a consortium within the Stimson centre in the US.

It particularly focuses on disarmament strategies for areas where the community are dependent on livestock as their livelihoods. This research looked at the geographic area of the Karamoja cluster, which is a region that covers part of North Eastern Kenya, north Western Kenya, the southern part of Ethiopia, South-Eastern part of South Sudan, and the Western part of Uganda. In this area livelihoods largely depend on livestock, which we call pastoralists.

Over the years, the community has been protecting or defending their assets by bearing arms, but this armament has become a problem because these arms have gotten into civilian hands and are being used as trade. So there have been efforts by government to disarm communities, but it has been counterproductive and my hypothesis about this is that the approach taken by government is not incorporating community attributes, particularly the kinship relationships that already exist amongst the communities, such as the Karamoja class.

This study tries to identify the challenges that are faced by both government and local communities in disarmament, but also to propose alternatives strategies that can be effective in conducting disarmament that is community based,


  • There are adaption strategies that are evolving from within the community.

    One adaption strategy to climate change includes the circular migration that takes place across borders. This happens because communities need to follow the grass and water, requiring them to cross borders. It might take a longer time than anticipated and cause families to separate. This builds new kinship networks.

  • Climate change is increasing the disruption of assets because of the increased competition over cross-border resources.
  • However, we also found out that there are what we call mal-adaptations, communities have developed negative adaptation strategies.

    For example: rearmament. So instead of disarmament, communities have devised ways of getting arms, because they are suspicious that one community has been disarmed, and the other one has. So these tensions that therefore exist between various communities has meant that rather than disarming, they are arming themselves due to suspicion that other communities actually have weapons that might be used against them. Evidence for the rearmament include the recent killings that have taken place on the Kenyan-side where the government had documented that the communities that do not need arms have been armed, yet the same community was involved in fire exchanges leading to a loss of livestock and human beings - which shows these communities are in fact still armed.

  • Other evidence that points to mal-adaptation, includes when communities depend on livestock for their livelihoods, the rate of raiding had tremendously increased for the last three to five years.

    And if communities are being raided, livestock is being lost, and human death is being experienced then the conclusion that complete disarmament has taken place is false.

  • On the border between Kenya and Ethiopia, there were interesting cases that showed when one community goes to take livestock on one side of the border, they may not return for several weeks - they spend time on the other side of the border.

    And they're welcome. This is an example of a kinship networks, and currently the government doesn't exploit these networks in their strategies for disarmament.

What it means

This study is making a strong case for combining government policy with these local strategies, like kinship networks to conduct disarmament. Because the only way the community can trust each other is through these networks. Otherwise we see suspicion and mistrust like has been the case over the last 10 years.

Since people continue to lose their lives in the Karamoja cluster, plus the growing stress over resources due to climate change. And so if something does not happen in terms of a conducting harmonious disarmament, then a combination of factors, including climate change, is likely to accelerate the challenges that communities on the border experience.

And particularly – fear and the insecurities that come with the communities bearing more arms or maladaptation that I talked about in the findings.

So it is important that actions are taken to conduct effective disarmament. Otherwise, if that doesn’t happen then with the emergence of climate change related risks and threats, those communities are really threatened. And we might experience another massive human loss and livestock destruction, which has an implication on the livelihood of people and the existence of communities on the border.

How to use

  • To conduct effective disarmament - we need to ensure that the social networks (or the exchange that naturally happens between communities living on the border) is harnessed: When government is developing their disarmament strategies, the kinship network must be one of the most important pillars of consideration. Because right now the government uses the ministry of the interior and the counties to ensure that people surrender their arms - but his approach does not work because people are fearful. The social networks need to be integrated into the national disarmament strategy and include initiatives such as a social development agenda and infrastructure connections to increase “borderless” access to basic facilities such as schools and health facilities, and other social support mechanisms.
  • Deliberate efforts should be undertaken to incorporate local philosophies such as “brothers’ keepers” as a function of social bonding in the disarmament strategies and plans
  • The family-based learning (FBL) approach considers learning a social activity: The FBL approach would be an ideal alternative for children in the Karamoja Cluster, who spend the early part of their lives tending livestock with guns.
  • We need to ensure that we have a comprehensive strategy that is incorporating what we call a human security framework - which encompass climate change

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Onditi, Francis. 'Preventing Atrocities Among Pastoral Communities Through Disarmament: A Study of Karamoja Cluster, Horn of Africa'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/preventing-atrocities-among-pastoral-communities-through-disarmament-a-study-of-karamoja-cluster/