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Population movement as a livelihood strategy in northern Uganda

Summary of published research 1

Cattle in Agoro, Uganda

In March and April 2006, a research team from Tufts University's Feinstein International Centre carried out a study on livelihoods and human security in Kitgum district in Northern Uganda. The three areas included were the Orom trading centre/IDP (internally displaced people) camp and surrounding parishes; the Agoro trading centre/ IDP camp and nearby villages; and Labuje IDP camp and Pager village. The study found a high rate of movement between internal displacement camps and semi-settled villages. The most commonly cited reason for moving was to gain better access to land to grow crops, collect natural resources and raise livestock. The two other main reasons were to move out of the camps in search of better living conditions and to search for greater independence and self-reliance. The study found that people had many compelling reasons to remain outside the camps, but many maintained a presence in the camps for at least part of the time. Most people returned to the camps when under threat of attack or when harassed by the military.

Specific security threats and protective responses in the semi-settled villages varied according to location, geographic features and local conditions. Three types of protective strategy took place. The first is demonstrated by villagers in Orom, who operated their own protection force consisting of armed men and adolescent males. They protected livestock and food stores at night, provided security for people walking to the trading centre, acted as sentries in the fields and in some villages accompanied women on traditionally female-specific tasks, like collecting water and firewood. A second strategy involved movement. For example, in four villages in a parish of Orom, residents climbed the mountainside each night, sleeping under animal hides tanned to look like rocks, or pressed against the base of trees disguised as stones. A third strategy was for residents of both camps and semi-settled villages to act collectively to increase their security. For example, women and girls from the camps travelled in groups to collect firewood and wild foods, while men usually moved out in groups to make charcoal.

The Tufts team found that households in semi-settled villages were, overall, better able to achieve their livelihood objectives than those based entirely in the camps. In most cases, establishing or maintaining a presence outside of the camps, even when this is only on a daily basis, affords better land access. Land tenure is more secure, people are able to access larger plots and collective farming is the norm. This translates into improved food security. The effect of improved living conditions on children and livestock in the semi-settled villages is also pronounced.

The Tufts study concluded that people in northern Uganda are on the move, whether to decongestion camps, between semi-settled villages and camps or to original villages or nearby locales. Much of this movement is voluntary, and is part of adaptive livelihood strategies aimed at balancing livelihood objectives with security. The authors conclude that once more information on the process of decongestion and the range of factors that cause people to move from an established camp is available, organisations should follow the lead of communities themselves and seek to support those systems that facilitate improved livelihoods and better security. Ultimately these will enable people to return to their land. These systems may include voluntary movement, the division of households, re-establishing collective labour systems and communal land-holding, maintaining links to established camps and innovative protective strategies.

Show footnotes

1 Stites. E (2006). Movement as a livelihood and protective strategy in northern Uganda. Humanitarian Exchange No 36, December 2006, pp 11-14.

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Reference this page

E Stites (2007). Population movement as a livelihood strategy in northern Uganda. Field Exchange 30, April 2007. p8. www.ennonline.net/fex/30/populationmovement