President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni yesterday witnessed the historical signing of a peace deal towards the joint development of the marginalised Turkana-Pokot-Karamoja region along the border of the two countries.
The two heads of state shook hands at Naitakwae Playgrounds in Moroto District after witnessing the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for Cross-Border Peae and Development on the border.
Kenya’s Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Uganda’s Minister for Karamoja Affairs John Byabagambi signed the agreement in front of the two leaders and hundreds of top government officials from both countries.
For years, the communities have fought each other over pasture and cattle in conflicts that have often led to deaths. “This agreement will help us ensure long-lasting peace for our people. It is not only about peace but sustainable development,” President Kenyatta said.
On his part, President Museveni said his administration had initiated a range of projects aimed at improving the economy of the region, saying it was the only to ensure the lives of the residents improved.
He said the peace agreement would give his government an opportunity to implement the projects in the Karamoja region.
The biggest challenge within the region has been cattle rustling that has always been fueled by readily available guns.
Uganda has tried to rid the Karamojong of lethal guns through past disarmament but other countries, including Kenya, have failed in similar missions. In 2001, the Ugandan government managed to recover at least 40, 000 illegal guns during a mop up pushed by President Museveni in the region. During that exercise, Turkanas who had been living in Uganda for years were said to have escaped to Kenya in droves to avoid losing their guns.
The two governments signed the MoU to improve peace and encourage cross-border trade that has often been disrupted by distrust and frequent inter-community attacks.
The communities within the border still uphold other outdated practices such as female genital mutilation. Both countries have rolled out programmes aimed at stamping out the practice and hope to use the new agreement to bring together efforts towards dealing with the vice.
No significant attack has been reported along the border for a while and business has boomed as traders from Lodwar in Turkana cross over to buy vegetables and grains from the markets in Moroto region that enjoys rains most of the year unlike the semi-arid Kenyan side.
However, bad roads on the Kenyan side has been blamed for stagnating business activities.
Mr Wamalwa said the agreement was a clear indication of the positive direction the two countries were taking in promoting East African unity.
We are not here to complain about the challenges in our border but the great potential here. We hope that this will signify long lasting peace among the three communities,” he said.