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Ugandans call for action at UNICEF-sponsored 'Future Search' conference in Karamoja

By Thomas Nybo

MUNYONYO, Uganda, 16 November 2010 – How do you improve life for people living in Karamoja, the poorest region of Uganda? That was the question facing some 60 lawmakers, young people, development partners, civil society representatives and other leaders who recently gathered for a three-day planning meeting in Munyonyo, Uganda.

VIDEO: 29 October 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on UNICEF-sponsored 'Future Search' planning conference in Munyonyo, Uganda.  Watch in RealPlayer


The question that the future Karamoja will face, said Robert Lim Lim, Director of Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, is this: “Shall we be passengers or shall we be drivers? Shall we drive the vehicle of progress for Karamoja or shall we just sit and allow others to drive it for us?”

The UNICEF-sponsored meeting – ‘Creating a Shared Vision for Karamoja’ – followed guidelines laid out in the ‘Future Search’ paradigm, an interactive planning process used worldwide in diverse cultures to achieve shared goals. The Future Search methodology brings people together to tell stories about their past, present and desired future. In the process, they discover dialogue and then make concrete action plans.

Problems facing youth

Young people and the challenges they face were a major focus of the discussions at the Munyonyo meeting.

© UNICEF video
Uganda's First Lady, Janet Museveni, participates in the 'Future Search' planning conference in Munyonyo, part of the Karamoja region.

"What will be done to help the youth of Karamoja? Because there are so many problems that are facing the youth," said youth representative Cathy Comfort. Concrete ideas and plans, she added, “will help to make Karamoja a better place."

On the first day of the conference, participants created timelines of key events in the world, in their own lives and in the region, which has a long history of food insecurity and armed conflict. After completing the timelines, the group focused on the present. Group members created a "mind map" of trends affecting them now, using colored dots to identify the trends they consider most important.

First Lady plays active role

Day two brought a special guest: the First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni, who also holds the title of Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs.

© UNICEF video
Karamoja is one of the poorest regions in Uganda.

"The history of Karamoja, since the birth of the nation of Uganda, has been littered with misunderstanding, with neglect, with exploitation, with violence and conflict, which has resulted in what we see today," she said.

Besides the challenges, however, Ms. Museveni highlighted her hopes for Karamoja.

"Water is central if any progress is to be made," she said. "In the coming months, we hope to make water a reality in Karamoja, with water tanks to alleviate the problem of shortage of water for animals and for human beings."

Important changes

In the end, the conference was characterized as a first step in a long journey. "We go out of here with one vision … to take Karamoja to 2020," said one participant.

© UNICEF video
Participants confer the three-day 'Future Search' meeting sponsored by UNICEF in Munyonyo, Uganda.

That vision includes the pen, which represents education. More than 50 years ago, leaders of the Karamajong culture famously buried the pen and resisted educating their children, which they saw as a colonial threat to their culture. But at the Munyonyo workshop, an elder stepped forward and resurrected the pen – and with it, hopes for Karamoja’s future. At the same time, he said it's time to bury the gun and shift away from the region's history of armed conflict.

The final session was not marked by a grand speech, but rather by the identification of common ground and individual commitments to realize the dream of a better Karamoja.

"We sometimes say that the future can be what we want it to be if we're intentional about it,” said Sandra Janoff, one of the co-founders of Future Search. “The seeds of change really begin in the planning."



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