President Yoweri Museveni, who is also the Commander in Chief of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, has this week set camp in the Eastern and North Eastern region, boots on the ground, with a clarion call to the security organs to nip in the bud the threat of resurgence of cattle rustlers in Karamoja Region.
The rustlers, who have changed raid tactics in a network that involves criminals with guns, bows and arrows, stick squads that drive the cows and corroborators (spy network) have recently wreaked havoc leaving a trail of death, rape and destruction and threatening the prevailing peace and security in the region.
The President was Wednesday meeting security organs including the UPDF, Police, Resident District Commissioners, Internal Security Organisation officers and Uganda Wildlife Authority officials over the security situation in Karamoja which has affected the neighboring regions of Teso, Bugisu, Sebei and spillover in Kenya at the State Lodge in Kapchorwa.
President Museveni commended security forces in the region for their concept of a reaction force and Intelligence-led operations to curb cattle rustling including profiling suspects.
In an earlier similar security meeting held at Morulinga state Lodge in Napak on September 12, 2021, the President had directed formation of kraal-based intelligence, reaction forces per district backed by enablers and 24-hour reconnaissance by day and night.
“We thought this could react and destroy raiding parties and abort their missions. However, cattle rustling is now commercial, when people steal cows, they want to sell them for slaughter. There are not many roads here, mount roadblocks so that they are intercepted,” he said.
The President said with the increasing number of other crimes including murder and rape, there is a need for police to establish units per suband rape, there is a need for police to establish units per sub-county to enable police to quickly deal with that.
“Even without enough manpower, we can deal with that problem. The bigger the manpower, the bigger the wage bill! We can't build roads and other infrastructure if we have to deal with cattle thieves,” he said.
On the issue of guns in the region, the President directed security chiefs in Bugisu, Sebei and Teso regions to deal with the internal problem of using guns in cattle rustling.
Museveni believes this will be the lasting solution to end cattle rustling among Ugandans and across in the neighbouring countries and asked security to intensify the effectiveness of hunting for guns to disarm rustlers.
“The issue of guns in Kenya and South Sudan should not concern us. The problem is internal. Because if you try to tie our internal security problem with what happens in the neighboring countries, we shall never get peace,” Museveni said, adding that the Ugandan side of the West Nile that is connected to the border of Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan and also Western Uganda have no such issues because the Ugandan people at those borders don’t support it.
He argued that the tribes in Kenya don’t raid each other because of the effectiveness of the police in those countries.
“And as you say, within Kenya, they don’t raid one another because of the effectiveness of the police. It’s effective there that’s why they don’t raid among themselves. We need the same seriousness on this side,” Museveni said.
This after the 3rd Division commander, Brig Gen Joseph Balikuddembe informed President Museveni that the problem starts with armed Ugandan rustlers crossing over to raid from neighbouring countries.
Brig Balikuddembe gave an example of the criminal elements from Uganda like the Jie of Kotido, the Dodoth of Kaabong who normally cross over to Kenya especially Nakitong'o areas of Turkana West Sub-County and Orumu and they raid cows frequently.
“The Turkana carry out revenge attacks, the number of times that our people crossed to raid. Otherwise, if our people don’t cross over to raid, then the Turkana will not raid us, even the Pokot, but the problem starts with our people here who raid amongst themselves and after cross over to the other side,” Brig Balikuddembe said.
The Vice President Major (Rtd) Jessica Alupo Epel who hails from Teso region, hailed the disarmament process but called for more vigilance along the borders to prevent gun-wielding rustlers.
“We had almost believed we had put a complete stop to this challenge until raiders crossed into Teso in increased numbers with guns and arrows, a departure from earlier raids. We registered deaths and rape in a long time and almost registered internal displacements. It was a very alarming situation,” Alupo said.
The new concept, according to Brig Joseph Balikuddembe, targets four groups in these raids, including criminals with guns, those with bows and arrows, those with sticks to drive the cows, and collaborators who are in different districts but connected and linking up with the rustlers.
He said in their simultaneous operations, they identified and profiled youthful criminal elements in some sub-counties and many were arrested.
“Within the screening that started on May 16, we recovered 22 guns within one week from the suspects that we arrested, the second week, we recovered 35 guns, the third week which we are almost completing, we have 26 guns,” he said, adding that the concept has completely seen the recent reduction of cattle thefts and raids in Karamoja.
He said many of the suspects are found in the manyattas (homesteads) in the grazing areas and trading centers where these criminals normally drink from.
“If you go to Karamoja now, some people will tell you that they don’t need this operation, others are welcoming this concept and again the same people who were complaining say they need dialogue to end cattle rustling.”
The Deputy Chief of Defense Forces Lt Gen Peter Elwelu noted the need to bring on board “Fortune Tellers”, who he said are lead consultants in cattle rustling with powers to curse and bless rustlers.
He said according to the Internal Security Organisation, the group has a total membership of around 700 people who gather in a place called Morukajole in Nakapiripirit district where they perform their rituals.
“The Kajamajong believe a lot in spirituality and in these people of theirs. So, we need to know them and make them understand the need for peace in Karamoja,” Gen Elwelu told the President who promised to handle the matter through the office of the Prime Minister.
The President will today meet regional leaders from Bugisu, Sebei and Teso alongside the security apparatus before heading to Otuke in Lango region and later to Moroto in Karamoja in an operation aimed at sweeping out pockets of re-emerging rustlers.