The remote northeast represents a Uganda largely unknown to both visitors and the bulk of its population living down south. For good reason. It’s a long and rugged road to its principal draw, Kidepo Valley National Park, where lion prides, herds of zebra and waterbuck share the savannah with species found in no other Ugandan park such as cheetah and wild dogs. Bordering South Sudan and Kenya, it’s a world apart in terms of culture and landscape – with knobby mountains and steep escarpments straight out of fiction. Karamojong, Jie, Tepeth, Kadama, Ik, Dodoth, Pokot, Labwor, Mening, Nyangia people call this region their home.
From colonial times up to five years ago the north-eastern region of Uganda, known as Karamoja, has been isolated. Under colonial rule the Karamoja region was a closed district and mobility restricted making it only accessible with a permit. During Amin’s reign the Karimojong people were suppressed and humiliated. In the eighties the Karimojong obtained guns from abandoned army barracks that caused a tribal war for thirty years. Until in 2001 the Ugandan People Defence Force started a successful ten-year program to disarm the people. In 2011 peace returned finally, but many damage had been done.
Unfortunately, the insecure past of the Karamojong has given the region and the people a negative image within Uganda and beyond. But happily, the process has started and many countries have changed their travel advice and are allowing their people to travel through this undiscovered region for the first time in decades. Also, the Ugandan Government and its partners are putting a lot of effort into improving its infrastructure, electricity has reached the region and schools are been built in great numbers.
Photography: Marcus Westberg
The Karamojong are nomadic agro-pastoralists known for their love of cattle and their resistance to the trappings of modern civilisation. They consist out of numerous tribes and clans that once migrated from modern days Ethiopia including the Maasai, Turkana and Nyangatom living on the Omo Valley of Ethiopia. Due to the decades of isolation and their strong believes, the Karamojong people have been able to maintain their ancestral cultural heritage with cultural customs dating back to thousands of years.
The Karamojong have distinctive beauty ideals as scarification on the body and faces, usage of colourful beads, the iconic blankets and their traditional dances shows. They show great similarities to the renown Maasai in Kenya.
The north-eastern border of the Karamoja plateau is defined by a string of volcanic mountains that include Mount Morungole, Mount Moroto, and Mount Kadam. On the western border of the region lies Mount Napak, that’s known for being the port to Karamoja.
The mountains are inhabited by the original inhabitants of the plateau that flied into the mountains during the migration of the Karamojong. The Ik are living in the northern part of the mountain and the central and south is occupied by the Tepeth, each with their own believes and traditions.
The mountains of Karamoja are an exciting alternative to the more strenuous climbs in East Africa with many of the same attractions, lower elevation and requires no special equipment or technical experience.
The experience of climbing Karamoja’s mountains is a mix of rich encounters with the Uganda’s highland people, breath taking views and unique sights along the trails and unique campsites where you can enjoy the sunset, the stars and sunrise over the planes of Karamoja.
Offering some of the most stunning scenery of any protected area in Uganda are the three unknown Game Reserves in the east and Kidepo Valley National Park in the extreme northeast of Uganda. The rolling, short-grass savannah lands are ringed by mountains, cut by rocky ridges and harbour a number of animals found nowhere else in Uganda.
Karamoja is home to one National Park and three Game Reserves that collectively have the most unique biodiversity of Uganda and a great importance to the European Bird migration. Pian Upe Game Reserve covers the area from Mt. Kadam in the south to Mt. Napak to the north. Together with the game reserve of Bokora and Matheniko they create a larger ecosystem of savanna and mountains in a semi-arid area where species are seen like ostriches, dik dik, hyenas, buffaloes and Uganda’s last population of roam antelope. Birdlife is particularly prolific around the swamp terrains where you will find many bird species which are difficult to see elsewhere like the Jackson’s Hornbill (Tockus jacksoni).
In the far north of the region lies one of Africa’s most renown and remote national parks: Kidepo Valley. It contains one of the most exciting faunas of any Ugandan parks, with over 80 species of mammals such as the cheetah, lions, elephants, leopard, warthogs, ostriches, buffaloes and giraffes, but also several of which restricted only to Kidepo, like the striped hyena and caracal.
The bird list boasts over 465 species such as ostriches, Apalis, Jackson’s Hornbill, Grenadier, Pygmy Falcon, Red Throated Bee Eater, Rufous chatterer, White-bellied go-away bird and many more.
Photography: Miranda Grant
Karamoja is richly blessed with the endowment of yet-to-be exploited mineral resources.
Professionals speak of the existence of about 50 different minerals and precious stones, like gold, silver, copper, iron, titanium, manganese, cobalt, niobium, tantalite, chrome, rare earth and radioactive minerals.
Gold is found in the entire Matheniko County in a belt stretching from the north to the south of Karamoja in the Upe area, which experts say is one of the world’s largest deposits with the highest levels of purity.
The copper fields are situated in Jie County and along the Kenya-Uganda border. Other mineral deposits in Karamoja are mica, green and red gannets, tin, marble, beryl, cuprite, hematite, limestone, talc graphite, columbite, magnetite, platinum and zircon.
Recent surveys have shown potentially rich oil deposits in the Moroto-Kadam basin located in the South of the region.
Discover the secrets of Karamoja’s mineral resources during the ‘Secrets of Karamoja Mining and Minerals tour‘.