Changes in pastoralist commons management and their implications in Karamoja (Uganda)

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This article analyzes the progression from traditional to current pastoralist practices and the contemporary diversification of livelihoods of the Jie group of the Karimojong in the Kotido district in Karamoja (Uganda). the focus is on changes of land use, framed by the commons debate. We identify factors that have forced the Karimojong to abandon their traditional mobile pastoral lifestyle and to adopt new income-generating activities, including charcoal production and brick-making, which may have detrimental effects on local forest and soil cover. These have included repeated enclosure of common grazing lands by colonial and postcolonial governments. We conducted empirical research (interviews and focus group discussions) in 2012. They confirm the superiority of traditional pastoralist practices (in terms of safeguarding sustained productivity of pastures) compared to the current situation. An important factor leading to current unsustainable pastoralist practice involved the mass acquisition of firearms by the Karimojong in the 1970s and 1980s, violent cattle raiding and subsequent unequal disarmament and establishment of army-controlled cattle herding. This radical enclosure of the commons by the government, linked to impoverishment of a large part of the population in terms of cattle numbers, has necessitated the emergence of new, potentially environmentally detrimental livelihoods for the Jie. However, the escalation of the firearm crisis cannot be seen in isolation from a century of commons enclosure by governments, curtailing traditional practices and leading to insecurity and impoverishment of the Karimojong. The situation is exacerbated by current policies of the Ugandan government, geared to agricultural sedentarization, which may be unsustainable given the local natural and climatic conditions.

Keywords: Pastoralism, Karamoja, environmental degradation, commons, political ecology, colonialism

How to Cite: Filipová, Z. & Johanisova, N. (2017) “Changes in pastoralist commons management and their implications in Karamoja (Uganda)”, Journal of Political Ecology. 24(1). doi: