Young researchers in northern Uganda have been probing questions posed by their own communities. From December 2012 to November 2013, they have been using action research techniques to investigate land, peace and justice in Karamoja, a post conflict society. Their findings, shared with community leaders and local government, have shed light on a fundamental problem of a society in transition out of decades of violence.
Karamoja has been described as a ‘development challenge’ by the Ugandan government and aid agencies. Rising levels of armed conflict and livestock raiding in the 1990s was followed by ten years of violent disarmament. While the disarmament eventually brought security to many areas, it also had devastating effects on the politics, economy and society of Karamoja.
The team of 23 young men and women is a carefully constructed mix of people, whose education, gender, lifestyle and clan reflect the different makeup of society in Karamoja. The youth are mentored by men and women elders from communities across the three districts. The study was supported by Restless Development, the Pastoralist Communication Initiative and Patta Scott-Villiers, based at the Institute of Development Studies. The project was funded by Irish Aid.
The study has been underway across Moroto, Kotido and Napak districts since late 2012. During the first nine months of 2013, the team visited 89 communities, staying the night with local hosts, helping out with herding and farming and interviewing 527 people about their views on land, peace and justice. The analysed and fed back their findings in a series of visits, meetings and further interviews. They then took part in various community decision processes stimulated by the debates they had provoked. They estimate that in that period they had formal and informal discussions with about 4,850 people.
The research was carried out in four phases:
- Phase 1: scoping to define key issues for further investigation. The results of this phase produced three simple research questions, one each for peace, land and law
- Phase 2: visiting communities and asking the questions about peace, land and law
- Phase 3: feeding back to communities, developing and asking further questions to deepen the analysis
- Phase 4: taking action: bringing communities to other communities, and local government to communities to debate the issues and decide on action.
The study has produced an illustrated research report which offers insight into the problems of development in post-conflict Karamoja. The book paints a vivid picture of a region in transition. It shows a society is rebuilding its capacity to deliberate and make decisions in community fora (etem). It emphasises how people cannot make decisions unless they have accurate and comprehensive information (ekoi).
The research has identified customary meetings and decision-making systems as key priorities and has helped to facilitate the revival of these:
- Ekoi: the information that flows around society; this keeps society informed and able to make decisions
- Etem: community meetings open to any person and any issue; etem deals with practical matters
- Akiriket: parliaments where the old men make the law and sit in the court of appeal
To find out more, read the study report ‘Ekoi and Etem in Karamoja – a study of decision making in a post-conflict society’.