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Tradition in Transition: Customary Authority in Karamoja, Uganda

Tradition in Transition: Customary Authority in Karamoja, Uganda

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Customary authority in the Karamoja region of Uganda has undergone profound shifts in parallel to the changing livelihoods and security conditions in the region over the past several decades. This study, funded by Irish Aid Kampala, examines the evolution of customary authority among four population groups, the Jie, Dodoth, Matheniko and Tepeth. Overall the study finds that customary mechanisms have been slow to adapt to the changes in the region and have seen decreased influence over the day-to-day legal, economic, diplomatic and ritual affairs of local communities. Interrelated factors contributing to this decrease in influence include the loss of livestock in the region and the shift away from pastoral livelihoods; modern influences of education, migration and commoditization; the delay in succession of authority from one generation-set to the next; the rise in criminal behavior by young men; the erosion of external peacemaking by male elders; and the expanded reach of state institutions of governance.
Customary authority mechanisms do, however, continue to play an important role in the region and are often the preferred avenues for redress for specific complaints and violations. In particular, customary systems are seen as more transparent and more appropriate in their focus on compensation and the reconciliation of communal relations when compared to the official state law and order systems. This study examines the perceptions of male elders, male youth and women regarding the status of customary institutions within their community. The study also investigates the interaction between official and customary systems and offers recommendations for national and international actors working in the Karamoja region.
Customary authority in the Karamoja region of Uganda has undergone profound shifts in parallel to the changing livelihoods and security conditions in the region over the past several decades. This study, funded by Irish Aid Kampala, examines the evolution of customary authority among four population groups, the Jie, Dodoth, Matheniko and Tepeth. Overall the study finds that customary mechanisms have been slow to adapt to the changes in the region and have seen decreased influence over the day-to-day legal, economic, diplomatic and ritual affairs of local communities. Interrelated factors contributing to this decrease in influence include the loss of livestock in the region and the shift away from pastoral livelihoods; modern influences of education, migration and commoditization; the delay in succession of authority from one generation-set to the next; the rise in criminal behavior by young men; the erosion of external peacemaking by male elders; and the expanded reach of state institutions of governance.
Customary authority mechanisms do, however, continue to play an important role in the region and are often the preferred avenues for redress for specific complaints and violations. In particular, customary systems are seen as more transparent and more appropriate in their focus on compensation and the reconciliation of communal relations when compared to the official state law and order systems. This study examines the perceptions of male elders, male youth and women regarding the status of customary institutions within their community. The study also investigates the interaction between official and customary systems and offers recommendations for national and international actors working in the Karamoja region.

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Published by: Feinstein International Center on Nov 07, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/04/2012

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The payment of compensation is integral to maintaining community
harmony, and allows for redress and reconciliation. Historically, cattle were
required as compensation for crimes including adultery, rape or murder. These
crimes warranted as many as 80 heads of cattle be paid for each ofense.27
Compensation now is considerably less due to high levels of poverty following
the loss of animals. The inability of many ofenders to pay compensation in
accordance with traditional principles has forced elders to change the types of
punishments levied. As the Ugandan Shilling has become more common in the
trade of goods and remuneration for services, it has also become common for

27 Knighton, p. 108.

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Tradition in Transition: Customary Authority in Karamoja, Uganda

Khristopher Carlson, Keith Proctor, Elizabeth Stites, and Darlington Akabwai

elders to rule that ofenders ofer monetary – rather than livestock – compensation,
though the amounts are small relative to what was historically owed.
The decrease in traditional forms of compensation (animals) and the overall
lower levels of comparable payment led many community members interviewed
for this study to posit that the system of traditional compensation and reconciliation
is less efective now than it was in a previous time. However, the system
nonetheless continues to exist in one form or another in most study locations.
Generally speaking, respondents feel that some compensation is seen as better
than none at all, and complain that the formal justice system does not guarantee
that victims will receive any form of compensation.

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