Leveraging and Enhancing the Voices of the Indigenous Peoples of Uganda and Combating Child Trafficking in Karamoja, Uganda

On August 31, 2023, Makerere University, School of Public Health, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Gulu University Constituent College (GUCC) in Moroto, and Purdue University brought together 89 multidisciplinary researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and donors at a project dissemination workshop in Hotel Africana, Kampala Uganda. The dissemination event featured the findings from six research interventions conducted under the “Voices of the Indigenous People of Uganda” project. The project was funded by USAID Uganda under the LASER PULSE (Long-term Assistance and SErvices for Research: Partners for University-Led Solutions Engine) program led by Purdue University. It was conducted in consultation with the Karamoja Regional Development Initiative (KAREDI) and the Southwestern Uganda Regional Coordination Initiative. The research projects focused on addressing the plight of Uganda’s indigenous peoples, specifically the Batwa in the southwestern region and the Ik, and Tepeth in the Karamoja subregion. The interventions also addressed issues related to child trafficking in Karamoja.

Among the workshop attendees were: 1) Prof. William Bazeyo, the Resilient Africa Network (RAN) Chief of Party, who gave the opening remarks and welcomed participants, 2) Mr. Fred Ngabirano, Commissioner Youth and Children at Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, who served as the Chief Guest and officially opened the workshop, 3) Prof. Elzeus Rutebemberwa, Deputy Dean at Makerere University School of Public Health representing the Dean Makerere University School of Public Health, 4) Hon. Mark Abuku, Former LC V Kaabong District who represented Hon. John Paul Kodet, Chairperson KAREDI, and 5) Dr. Betty Bugusu, Technical Director, LASER PULSE, Purdue University.

Dissemination session opening panel with the session attendees listed above (Photo Credit: Makerere University – RAN)
Mr. Fred Ngabirano, Commissioner Youth and Children at Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, giving his remarks (Photo Credit: Makerere University – RAN)

RAN, MUST, GUCC, and Purdue have been in this partnership, executing the project activities in collaboration with the local communities, since 2019. These partners have continuously identified research gaps, co-created solutions with local communities, and generated evidence to inform policies and practices for the indigenous peoples of Uganda. Among the outputs generated are: 1) an intensive review of the extant literature published as a desk review report, 2) findings from consultations with the Batwa Indigenous Peoples of southwestern Uganda published in an online report, and 3) findings from community consultations with the Ik and Tepeth Indigenous Peoples as well as voices from communities affected by child trafficking in the Karamoja subregion published in an online report. This research laid the foundation for the community-level interventions that followed.

During the workshop, the researchers and innovators shared their research findings and engaged participants in discussions on the outcomes of the six community interventions as presented below.

A. Interventions implemented in the Karamoja subregion.

Three interventions were conducted in this region as described below.

Project 1: Redeeming the So-Lang language from extinction among the Tepeth indigenous communities, implemented by KAYESE, a local NGO in Moroto. This project focused on forming and establishing structures to promote and preserve the Tepeth heritage through documentation and popularization of the Soo language in the districts of Moroto and Napak. The project mapped the Soo language, conducted interviews, and facilitated community dialogues. The data generated was transformed into text material, audio, and videos. The project achievements: 1) A book of Soo norms and values, 2) A primary one thematic curriculum book translated from Nga’karimojong into Soo language, 3) 300 copies of different text materials (a thematic curriculum book, riddles, nomenclature, basic numeracy, and reproduction of the draft Soo dictionary), 4) Videos of important folk songs, 5) Formation of two Soo cultural associations with 30 members each in Moroto and Napak districts, and 6) 60 cultural association members in trained the craft-making, tourism, and hospitality.

Project 2: Improved livelihoods for the Ik community near the mobile ecotourism camps through sustainable cultural tourism activities, implemented by the Kara-Tunga Foundation (KTF), an ecotourism-based NGO in Moroto. This project aimed to improve livelihoods within the IK community by developing successful community-based tourism activities near KTF’s ecotourism camps in Timu and Morungole Sub-counties. The project explored the use of cultural tourism to improve the livelihoods of the Ik as well as to protect their cultural and environmental heritage. Key project activities included: documenting the Ik cultural heritage’s oral histories and critical aspects, training project beneficiaries, and developing tourism activities. During the project period, 21 youths were trained as site guides, eight members from community-based organizations participated in a Training of Trainers, and two groups were formed and trained in cultural tourism. The key achievements of the project were improved knowledge of the Ik cultural heritage and improved investment in culture.

Project 3: Eliminating child trafficking in the Napak district through integrated approaches, implemented by the Ecological Christian Organization (ECO). The project contributed to the elimination of child trafficking in the Napak district by tackling the key drivers of child trafficking including poverty, food insecurity, peer influence, inadequate family support, and poor parenting practices. Under this project, 25 youth and returnees (21 females, 4 males) were trained in income-generating activities, and three Child Rights Clubs (known as Supporting Child Rights through Education, Arts, and Music – SCREAM) clubs were established in three schools. Ninety farmers from Loparipar, Louta-Lokarikori, and Lokitela-Lochera villages were organized into three groups and trained in agro-pastoral farmer school approaches and financial literacy. The project also conducted child trafficking awareness campaigns through radio talk shows, national television, and community gatherings. The achievements of this project included improved financial inclusion, increased skills that lead to economic empowerment, and increased child trafficking awareness.

B. Interventions implemented in southwestern Uganda.

Project 4: Employing an integration of mutual aid groups and informal saving schemes to alleviate gender-based violence among the Batwa in Kanungu, southwestern Uganda, implemented by MUST and Action for Batwa Empowerment Group (ABEG), worked to integrate an informal savings scheme into mutual aid groups (MAGs) to empower participants to overcome harmful practices and norms that perpetuate gender-based violence. The project targeted 200 Batwa in 10 Batwa settlements (Byumba, Kebiremu, Rurangara, Kihembe, Mpungu/Kitahurira, Bikuto, Kitariro, Mukongoro, Buhoma and Karehe) in Kanungu district. The project conducted training of trainers in financial literacy, introducing MAGs, and distributing start-up capital. The beneficiaries of this project reported improved family and community cohesion, better access to marital and gender-based violence counseling, improved financial and business management skills, and improved welfare.

Project 5: A Holistic Approach to Education for the Batwa people in Southwestern Uganda, implemented by a team from Makerere University School of Education in partnership with grassroots organizations in the Rubanda and Kisoro districts. More than half of the Batwa have no formal education, compared to an average of 7% of all Ugandans; only 3% of the Batwa community has achieved some secondary-level education. The project employed a learner-centered approach and equipped adult Batwa with basic skills in reading, writing, numeracy, and civic education delivered in the local language of the Batwa. The project also used practical applications and examples to equip the beneficiaries with relevant skills in a wide range of social-economic activities.

Project 6: Sustainable Education Responses for Batwa Children (SEREB), whichwas implemented by Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT) in Kisoro, Rubanda, and Kanungu districts. SEREB aimed to address gaps in Batwa children’s education. The project was three-pronged: (1) improving Batwa children’s perception of education, (2) empowering Batwa adults with parenting and economic skills, and (3) equipping teachers with appropriate skills to relate to and successfully tutor Batwa students. Eighty-nine (89) pupils, 64 parents, and 117 out-of-school youth from target districts were trained in life skills.

Media coverage of this event


By Betty Bugusu, PhD., Technical Director, LASER PULSE, Purdue University, and Harriet Adong, Director of Communications and Knowledge Management, Makerere University – RAN