The Process of Pacification
Beginning in the 1880s, Karamoja became increasingly integrated into trade networks extending outward from Khartoum (Sudan), Ethiopia and Zanzibar. Swahili and Ethiopian traders and later British big-game hunters became interested in Karamoja because of ivory. They supplied the local population with guns in exchange for ivory to increase the efficiency in elephant hunting and sometimes joined in raids against other tribes (Barber 1968: 91-98, Mirzeler/Young 2000: 411). The 1890s then were a period of devastating droughts and epidemics. This and the unequal influx of guns from Ethiopia, which gave northern tribes like the Jie and Turkana an advantage, led to an increase in raids. Most guns used insuch raids were muzzleloaders of low efficiency. Bur the new weapons in addition to an intensified war activity might have changed local authority structures, and the rise of war leaders such as Loriang among the Jie definitely improved military organization. Loriang succeeded in allying all of the Jie and administered crushing defeats to the Acholi in 1902, and to the Dodoth and the Karimojong in 1909-10, so that the Karimojong even appealed to the British for protection (Barber 1968: 100f., 126, Lamphear 1976: 229-244, Mirzeler/Young 2000: 410ff., 419).
First Phase: British Colonial Rule (1894–1962)
Great Britain declared Uganda a protectorate in 1894 but remained for a long while unwilling to extend control over Karamoja, to systematically intervene in local conflict, build up an administration and to pacify the area. This was due to at least two reasons: firstly, the area was considered economically unimportant apart from ivory, and the expected benefits of administration were too small. The mobile and armed pastoral population of Karamoja could not easily be brought under state administration or used for indentured work elsewhere. And due to the semi-arid environment, there was no opportunity to encourage the planting of cash crops in order to tax the resulting income to finance the costs of administration. Secondly, there were no geopolitical reasons to control Karamoja more systematically. The diplomatic victory of the British in the Fashoda incident in 1898 curtailed possible French colonial ambitions in northern Uganda. Britain was thus only in contest with the Ethiopia of Emperor Menelik II and regarded the area as a buffer zone between the Ethiopian empire in the north and the developed south of Uganda. Instead of complete control, the goal was to isolate the area from the outside, to curb the gun trade, to regulate the ivory trade through a pass system, to prevent raids on neighbouring administrated districts, and to curtail conflicts within Karamoja to a controllable level. For this, a minimal presence in the area was enough, consisting mostly of a small contingent of army and police forces (Barber 1968, Mirzeler/Young 2000: 412).
The first direct contact between Karimojong and representatives of the colonial power probably took place in 1898, when a British army expedition under the command of Major Macdonald crossed the Karimojong territory from south to north in an attempt to reach the Nile and link up with a similar expedition coming south from Sudan to counter French ambitions at Fashoda. The British traded with the Karimojong to restock their supplies, persuaded some leaders to sign treaties acknowledging British authority, but otherwise left them unharmed. The army expedition did destroy and burn down villages and fields of the Nyakwae, however, and killed some of their men in retaliation for the killing of a small scouting party under a British officer. Plans to extend control over this area were drawn up by Macdonald, but then rejected by the
British Foreign Office as too costly (Dyson-Hudson 1966: 6f., Barber 1968:6-13).
With the British unwilling to establish military control, the area was left uncontrolled for the next decade, with the exception of a short visit to the southern Karimojong by a government official in 1903, who reported that traders were involved in cattle raids. In 1910 and 1911, disturbing reports of increasing gun-smuggling and territorial incursions by Ethiopian troops reached the Protectorate Government and made it clear that a planned future expansion into the area might be challenged by tribes armed with modern rifles and maybe even in alliance with Ethiopia. The British sent out two army expeditions in 1911 to counter this threat, placed Karamoja and the adjoining Turkana district under military rule and closed the area to all traders (Barber 1968: 40, 107-118). Two companies of the King’s African Rifles were from then on in charge of controlling, patrolling and pacifying the whole northeast until 1914, when they were recalled to Europe on the eve of World War I, and replaced by a company of police. A number of government posts and garrisons were built in Karamoja, from where these troops would mount patrols and punitive expeditions (Barber 1968: 120-123, 138). The British troops used military force, summary executions, the burning of villages and the confiscation of cattle to force the local population to surrender their guns (Barber 1968: 122-155, Knighton 2003: 436f.). A Jie warrior described the heavy-handed approach of the British forces as follows:
The Karimojong told the British, “These are the Ngijie”. The British arrested Jie Leaders and nailed them to trees. They used firing squads and burned people in their huts, especially in Nakapelimoru. Others followed the confiscated cattle to Kapeta, and found them with long nails hammered through the forehead after they had been tied or chained to the tree. The nails are still there on the tree.
(Knighton 2003: 437)
The British troops were successful in establishing control over most of Karamoja by the 1920s. They encountered little resistance, as the disparity in military strength became quickly obvious in the few violent encounters. Most Karimojong at first even welcomed the British, as they realized they could gain their protection against the better-armed and better-organized Jie and Turkana (Barber 1968: 124-127). When civil administration was introduced in 1921, only a small contingent of 30 policemen under the control of the District Commissioner was responsible for upholding the peace within the whole district, together with a few troops from the King’s African Rifles, who until 1939 guarded passes against Turkana raids. Initially they were rather successful in maintaining peace, although they were never completely able to stop Turkana raids.
During rhe 1920s, there were hardly any raids wirhin Karamoja, probably because memories of the atrocities by the British troops were still fresh (Barber 1962: 121-124).