Hon. Barbara Oundo Nekesa
The Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs

Karamoja is Uganda’s region situated in the North East of the country. It is land of warrior nomads stretching across an isolated corner of Africa and it’s named after the local people, the Karimojong who have lived there for centuries.

With more than 27,000 square kilometers, this arid expanse of savannah and bush, borders with Kenya and Sudan, with Ethiopia not far off.  

To its east stands the Rift Valley towering over the Kenyan plains and scrubland. To the north lie the pristine basin of Kidepo National Park and also a mountainous vastness that leads into the Sudan. Similarly, to the south, there are the rugged peaks of Mount Elgon National Park, which were formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. In the west, abundant swamps enter into the Acholi lands. 

For decades the region has been characterized by chronic underdevelopment and marginalization regardless of its natural treasures and huge investment potential.  
Milly Kalyabe interviewed the State Minister for Karamoja, Nekesa Barbara Oundo on the treasure hunt for Karamoja    

Qs: Why would anyone consider the Karamoja region for investment?
A: Karamoja is located in the North East and it’s comprised of seven districts - it boarders with Kenya and Southern Sudan. The region has great investment potential. In fact, it’s virgin area for the investment as it has mineral treasures, gold, limestone, Gum Arabic etc.  Karamoja right now is surviving on wild Gum Arabic these are in abundance. If the investors pays attention to it and nurtures it, he would well. 
The mining sector alone provides a good opportunity that can give an investor a good return on his invest in Karamoja as the large deposits great potentiality and sustainability over many years.  

Qs: Are the deposits prospected already?
A: Prospecting is ongoing even now. Some international companies like DAO Mining Company have secured exploration licenses and they are doing good work. We are convinced we have enough deposits.  Tororo Cement Industry has been ferrying Limestone from Karamoja for such long time.

Qs: Apart from minerals what else can be done in Karamoja
A: Agriculture - Karamoja just needed the enabling environment which government has now given. Half of Karamoja is wet. Places like Nakapiripirit, Apak, Abim and Iriri are virtually green and can do so well in agriculture. Karamoja is flat arable land that makes commercial farming more advantageous.
The livestock has been a source of livelihood for majority households. Now we want to translate the herds of cattle into real incomes. We want locals to look at cattle with economic motives. We invite and encourage the investors in the dairy and beef sector and help to improve the breeds and bi-products. 

Qs: What can be grown there?
A: Beans and cassava can survive even in the harsh conditions. There is enough land in the region. In the long run by the way, like the Bible says that the last shall be the first, Karamoja is set to be the food basket for this nation and other regional markets.
Karamoja, being arid, there is a challenge for the water now but we have 25 parish dams. The bigger dams are handled by the ministry. For example, Aracheck dam is almost a man-made lake.  The ministry has plan of constructing seventeen more dams this financial year that will roll out the full scale irrigation system.
The KALIP is also a project that is funded by the EU to construct dams and their efforts are supplemented by other NGOs and international aid agencies like FAO, UNICEF, GIZ etc. 
Tourism is another big investment opportunity in Karamoja.  Recently the Minister for Karamoja and Tourism minister launched the first Museum in Moroto. The nature, the topography, the culture of Kajongos form great potential to showcase.  
One of the National Game parks, Kidepo is in Karamoja.  We have types of animals in Kidepo that are so peculiar and you won’t find them anywhere else. 

Qs: So what is government doing to attract investors into the Karamoja region?
A: Government has set up three power lines; one that goes via Muyembe, Namalu through Nakapiripirit, Moroto to Amudat. The main line is crossing from Soroti through Katakwi to Moroto and another one is going via Lira to Amudat for the upper side in the horn.  We have started on the process of having a line of 132 kilowatts to Moroto. 
Karamoja also has potential to generate the solar power - not just the solar power, but also the wind power.   
The road from Katakwi to Moroto, which is like the dock to Karamoja, has been made motor able.  Recently the Minister of works was on site to inspect works on this road to ensure the work is carried out efficiently.
We have planned with a Chinese firm to tarmac the road from Mbale through Muyembe, Nakapiripirit, Namalu, Kwenyi and up to Kotido. 
So, all these are our efforts towards attracting investment in the area.

Q: Apart from road transport, is there any other form of transport to Karamoja?
A: Air transport is available. We have airfields in Moroto, Amudat and Kobong near the National Park.

Qs: How is the security of the place given the fact that many Kajongos were armed for a long time?
A: Security is paramount to us, as it is to the investors, so we have started with a disbarment excise under the project of Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Program (KIDDP).  
Right now you would run out of count of how many NGOS working there. Previously they wouldn’t last for even three days. That tells you that peace has been registered.  We have deployed heavily at boarders and we are working with the youths, the Karachunas.  We are also working with them on hydro form technology, demonstration houses and other projects.  The government will continue to work towards the safe security.

Qs: How is the attitude of locals towards investment?
A: The attitude has changed. At first, it was like nothing can be done in Karamoja because this is what they grew up knowing. The investment was new theory to them. We received a lot of support from the women and got their will to grow food. Then the youth joined us and men followed suit. Actually now we are spoilt for choice because everyone has joined. People have gone ahead to form groups ready to be supported by any development effort.   

Qs: Any incentives to investors?
A: Yes. Recently we acquired 400 acres of land with support of UIA, basically for the Moroto Business Park. It is available to the investors. 

Qs: How far is Karamoja from Kampala?
A: At focused speed, it’s about 5-6 hours by road. For slow speed;  8-9 hours. The road is tarmacked up to Soroti. By air, it will take you about half an hour.

Qs: How can people acquire land in Karamoja?
A: They can buy or lease like in any other region. Except, much of the land belongs to clans and they use it communally. So heads of clans are being sensitized and encouraged to let it out for use. The District Land boards are in place to support the exercise of land acquisitions. Churches and NGOs have acquired big chunks of land there already. Most of the land is vacant; it is idle, therefore virgin for investment.