Both Pian-Upe and Kidepo National Park are in Karamoja. They are wonderful places and without the protection that they offer to the wildlife Uganda and the world would be the poorer.
But these places were the homeland of the Karamojong, displacing them from the parks reduces the land available for them.
The Karamojong are traditionally cattle herding folk. They speak a Nilotic language as opposed to the Bantu languages of most Ugandans. This group of people include the Masai of Kenya not far to the east. The quest for pasture and water in an unfenced country has led to clashes with their neighbours. Even now cattle raiding is not unknown. As the Amin era descended into chaos they helped themselves to rifles and Karamoja became unsafe to visit.
Even now the Australian Government’s Smartraveller Website has this to say …
Karamoja region, reconsider your need to travel
Think seriously about whether you need to travel here due to the high level of risk. If you do travel, do your research and take a range of extra safety precautions, including having contingency plans. Check that your travel insurer will cover you.
Kidepo would be out of the question …
Within 50 kilometres of the border with South Sudan, do not travel
The UK’s travel advisory is more moderate …
Inter-communal violence happens in north-east Uganda (sometimes referred to as the Karamoja region) as well as occasional attacks on security forces. Foreigners are not usually the target of the violence but you should remain vigilant and exercise caution if travelling in the region.
It does advise extra caution near the Sudanese border.
The Karamojong have, in the main, been disarmed and tourists are accompanied by armed rangers in the parks. We were advised not to take photographs of cattle, it could happen that the owner is both suspicious and superstitious and might respond violently.
After years languishing behind the rest of Uganda economic development is bringing education, healthcare and new opportunities to the region.
We visited a Karamojong settlement near Kidepo housing people that had been displaced from the park. We were made to feel very welcome. We were shown the interior of a traditional house, shown how sorghum is ground to make flour, treated to a dance which we were invited to join and offered handicrafts to buy.