Mennonites and Anglicans work to overcome violence in northeast Uganda
Mennonite Central Committee ñ an inter-Mennonite relief and development organization ñ is supporting the Church of Uganda, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, in a project to help members of the Iteso and Karimojong peoples of northeastern Uganda to be peacemakers in their communities.
The neighboring groups have much in common, writes Tim Shenk with Esther Harder and Emily Will for Mennonite Central Committee, but they are nevertheless divided by conflicts over cattle, water and land.
Both the Iteso and the Karimojong traditionally raise cattle for a living and share a common ancestry. According to local legend, when a nomadic group arrived from Ethiopia about 500 years ago, the elders settled in one area and became the Karimojong and the youth settled farther south and became the Itseo.
To this day, the Iteso refer to the Karimojong as their "uncles," and the Karimojong refer to the Iteso as their "nephews." But these nicknames disguise a longstanding conflict that has grown more deadly with the use of modern weapons.
Cattle are the primary form of wealth among both groups, and it is customary for a young man to make a gift of cattle to the family of a woman he wishes to marry. Karimojong men are expected to prove their manhood by stealing cattle from other Karimojong clans or from the Iteso and other groups.
During dry seasons, the Karimojong herd their cattle to watering holes in Iteso territory and frequently make cattle raids.
Atim Janet, a 53-year-old Iteso woman, describes how these raids have changed during her lifetime ìWhen I was first married, I didn't feel so bad about the cattle raiding because both sides just had clubs and spears and it was more equal,î she says.
But, she continues, ìafter 1979 the Karimojong acquired powerful guns. ... Now they want to kill the people they ambush, not just so it's easier to take the cattle but to leave no witnesses."
Today, many Iteso people live in displacement camps because of attacks by the Karimojong. In Janet's family, the raiders killed her grandmother and one of her nephews. But she is married to a Karimojong man and volunteers as a "peace promoter" in her community through an MCC-sponsored project.
Janet was among 20 Iteso and Karimojong volunteers who met for a week in August 2005 to learn conflict resolution skills. The group was taught by Sam Eibu, a Baptist pastor working in the Church of Uganda. MCC provides financial support for Pastor Eibu's peacemaking work.
Pastor Eibu says that he hopes to prevent violence between the Karimojong and the Iteso by building relationships between members of the two groups. He encourages Karimojong and Iteso people to get to know each other by sharing wells, raising cattle together and discovering their common history.
"You can't go raid a community where you know your brother stays," Pastor Eibu declares.
One Karimojong peace promoter has started a "peace choir" that sings at community gatherings about the need for reconciliation between the Iteso and Karimojong.
Janet meets with women in her church and her village to talk about the need to resolve conflicts peacefully. However, she notes that it is difficult to achieve peace in her community because of the proliferation of guns in northeastern Uganda and beyond.
"I encourage the other women to speak out," Janet says. "Maybe we will be able to make a difference, but I donít think we will have peace until the men are disarmed."