Majoring in peace

For years, unrest has raged in the Karamoja region of Uganda, on the Kenyan border. Livestock theft is a frequent cause. The emerging arms trade is causing an uptick in violence. Efforts by the Ugandan army to rid the area of weapons are proving counterproductive: Soldiers’ use of violent tactics such as torture and rape in arms raids is making the Karamojong more reluctant to turn in their weapons. The region has been stuck in a vicious cycle of violence for years.
It’s time for a new approach. The Karamoja project, which launched last spring, aims to improve relations through “people-to-people” activities like sports and drama. Project leader Thomas Klompmaker, of the United Nations University for Peace (UPEACE), says he hopes to get members of different tribes talking again. He predicts theater lessons will “help them to visualize themselves in a positive role.” According to Klompmaker, role-playing can help participants to identify the positive and negative qualities they ­ascribe to each other. He hopes it will increase mutual understanding.
Where sporting activities like soccer games and track meets are concerned, what matters is the composition of the teams. “Sports are about teambuilding,” says Klompmaker, who’s affiliated with the international university’s site in The Hague. “If residents from different backgrounds can work together on a sports team, they might be able to do it on other levels too.” And no matter which team wins, all ethnic groups and tribes will be represented.
 “It takes time to change negative feelings,” Klompmaker says. But that won’t hold back the ex-UPEACE students who’ll be teaching in ­Uganda. “We’ve taught them to keep believing in a better world.”
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Photo: Flickr/ WorldFish

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