Uganda’s Gold Rush And the Massacre of 300 in Karamoja Region

Ugandan soldiers celebrate killing

Ugandan soldiers celebrating after killing a person in Karamoja.

What happened in Karamoja recently? 

On March 22, it was reported countrywide that three geologists and two Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers had been shot and killed by suspected cattle rustlers in Karamoja region of Uganda on March 21. 

The three geologists were on assignment collecting soil samples from Lokisilei village in Lotisan Sub County in Moroto District, and the two soldiers were their guides and guards. After they were murdered, the UPDF Commander Land Forces Lt. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni, went postal.

As usual, he logged onto Twitter and spewed words of woe and braggadocio in the fashion of any tinhorn deputy dictator. “My Karimojong brothers! We have begged you to stop your life of theft and violence. We have begged you to stop attacking your neighbors in vain. You have refused our pleas! Well, now we are coming and hell is coming with us,” he tweeted.

Many Ugandans shared his tweet, thinking it the usual ravings of a demented individual who is confident he will one day succeed his father as senior dictator. Nobody knew what was coming, and the carnage which followed confirmed the “hell” Gen. Muhoozi had promised. A few days after his ominous tweet, declaring violence against fellow Ugandans, the UPDF attacked and killed a reported more than 300 alleged “cattle rustlers.” This seemingly retaliatory strike was quickly ignored by the nation’s media, which have been long accustomed to being gagged or complicit in the conspiracy of silence surrounding the deaths and despoilation Gen. Museveni’s regime has visited upon Ugandans.  

Mercifully, though, social media users exchanged information non-stop about the evil Gen. Muhoozi had unleashed.

Many Ugandans, including members of Parliament, also shared a video showing Ugandan soldiers laughing while pointing at the burnt remains of a person in Karamoja; one of the soldiers brandished his weapons and said they would teach people in Karamoja a lesson, while another displayed a piece of the dead person’s skull and even mimicked eating it. 

Then, by some quirk of fate, the truth came out in the shape of reports that conclusively indicate that it was not the Karimojong who had killed the five government workers, but yet-to-be identified armed Turkana and Matheniko criminal elements.

A few days ago, the Ugandan Joint Security delegation led by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) in Moroto, Wopuwa George William, received two guns that are believed to have been used in the killing of the two Ugandan soldiers and the three geologists from the Turkana County government in Kenya.

At the handover of guns—effectively the murder weapons—Kenya apologized for the killings by Turkana pastoralists. Yacob Tirop, the deputy commissioner for Lokiriama county in Kenya, delivered the apology last Wednesday. 

“If it was not for Uganda, Turkana cows would have got finished and that’s why we’re pleading with Uganda to please allow the Turkana to return and graze their livestock in Karamoja,” he said. The UPDF’s Brig. Balikudembe said they will not allow the Turkana to return, until Kenya hands over the killers to Uganda for prosecution.

However, nobody is talking about the more than 300 innocents, who were not involved in the murders, on Gen. Muhoozi’s orders. Two questions arise out of these happenings: One, was it a case of mistaken identity that led Gen. Muhoozi to shoot then ask questions later? Or, more invidiously, was it a case of premeditated murder? 

We know that billions of dollars has been poured into the Karamoja region over the years. It is where gold is located. Gen. Museveni’s interest in the region’s precious minerals—gold, limestone, and marble—cannot be underrated. Many of the locals say that this interest is leading to disruption as land-grabbing occurs. 

A total of 10,615 square miles of land in Karamoja is licensed for mineral exploration and extraction activities, according to official data. Twenty-six companies currently have exploratory or mining rights in the region. In 2018, Chinese mining company Sunbelt was given 2 square miles of land to set up a $13 million dollar marble mining factory in Rupa sub-county. A year later, the company expanded its operations to cover an additional 2.5 square miles, ostensibly after a deal with local leaders who report to the Museveni junta. 

It is strongly believed by locals that the so-called investors in this region are really proxies for Gen. Museveni’s regime. Was the killing of over 300 Karamojong meant to send a clear message? if ever try to rise up against our land grabbing, you shall be annihilated.

Columnist Matogo can be reached via [email protected] 


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