Uganda: Ridding Kampala City of Karimojong Street Children

Uganda: Ridding Kampala City of Karimojong Street Children
The Monitor (Kampala)

OPINION
March 4, 2007
Posted to the web March 5, 2007

Ben Simon
Moroto

An estimated 700 Karimojong, primarily women and children, who had been begging on the city streets of Kampala have now been returned to Moroto. A group of 395 travelled on February 14 and the rest travelled Wednesday.

There is no easy answer to explain how and why these people ended in Kampala.
Africa 2007

Clearly the region’s entrenched problems – food insecurity, a culture of violence and a harsh climate – made leaving the least bad option.

It is also possible the UPDF’s disarmament campaign exacerbated matters. The army strongly denies any linkage but a surge in movement that occurred in June 2006 coincided with the beginning of the army’s campaign, suggesting the two may be connected.

Human trafficking has been raised as a potential factor. It’s something local leaders and humanitarian workers in the region deny but the Minister of State for Youth James Kinobe "strongly believe(s) there has been and element of trafficking."

Problematic region

Approximately 85 per cent of those removed from Kampala come from Moroto. If people are leaving because of problems that plague the whole region then why is movement restricted to only one county, the minister asked.

When reaching Kampala the Karimojong pay Shs500 per night to live on plots of land in Kisenyi, Mengo or Katwe. There has been speculation that the owners of these plots are providing incentives for people in Moroto to send tenants.

The Minister said the whole situation is concerning level of "professionalism and sophistication."

Why Now?

This problem is not new.

There is rampant speculation that government has only now taken an interest in this issue because of the upcoming CHOGM conference.

The Chief Administrative Officer of Moroto District Moses Kapluna is critical of the central government because he believes it "has not attended to the needs of the Karimojong."

The rush to clear the streets, he says, "is just about CHOGM."

This argument irked Mr Kinobe. While he conceded the Movement government has not had an adequate presence in Karamoja, he said caring for the basic needs of local people is primarily the responsibility of local government and it appears government in Moroto has failed to do its job.

He said the street clearings "have nothing to do with CHOGM," however at meeting in Karamoja on December 15 last year Mr Kinobe reportedly said government did not expect anybody on the streets during CHOGM.

He says the Ministry is motivated exclusively by the belief that the street is an unsuitable place for children to live. No one disagrees on this point; however, there is disagreement on how to solve the problem.

During meetings held late last year local leaders and humanitarian agencies gave the central government a clear message: if people are to be moved, they must be returned home.

Mr Kinobe said his consultation meetings with local leaders and humanitarian agencies were frustrating. "Some of these agencies make big business out of problems with children so they don’t want the problem completely sorted out," he said.

The minister believed the situation required action but the meetings were leading to endless inaction. So he decided to act. The first phase of his plan was to bring people to Kampiringisa on a voluntary basis.

There was a problem. Government was hoping to receive assistance from UNICEF in caring for those taken there from the street. UNICEF then told government it did not believe innocent children should be taken to a place that, for all intents and purposes, is a prison for young offenders, and therefore it would not cooperate with the Kampiringisa programme.

Government was then forced to take the burden on themselves. By most accounts conditions at Kampiringisa were made adequate. But Kampiringisa is now more or less empty. Everyone taken there has now been brought to a rehabilitation centre called Kobulin in Moroto.

This too has been a source of controversy. The central government needs support to help care for people brought to Kobulin. But those expected to provide the support have been left out of the decision-making.

"Humanitarian agencies are just trying to respond to government actions. We do not necessarily support them," one aid worker said. Some have accused government of simply dumping 700 women and children in an extremely troubled part of the country with the expectation that independent organisations would sort them out.

But problems to date have been minor compared to what may lie ahead. There are as many as 800 Karimojong beggars still in Kampala. Government’s next move is to forcibly remove them.

UNICEF will not provide any support to a programme that uses force. It would be a direct contradiction of the organisation’s policy. Government may try to return people to Kobulin without the crucial support of the UN body. The losers in that scenario would no doubt be the women and children returned to Moroto.

But one potential problem stands above the rest: Moroto remains riddled with problems to which there are no immediate solutions. Until Karamoja offers hope for a better life, people, especially young people will be tempted to leave. To keep people from doing so immediately, check points have been set up. People heading west without a good reason will be removed from buses and sent back.

This probably isn’t legal and almost certainly won’t work. What is likely to work is giving the youth of Karamoja a reason to stay home. Something Mr Kinobe sees as someone else’s responsibility.

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