How Turkana and Pokot got caught up in 1970s' arms race

Monday November 25 2019

Kibish town, Turkana. CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION


Idi Amin had an unholy alliance with the Soviet Union. Shortly after the 1976 Entebbe raid by Israeli soldiers that had destroyed most of his air force, the Ugandan president turned to Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny for help.

The Soviets were looking for a strategic place in the heart of Africa to place their weapons. That is how Uganda’s Moroto barracks was turned into an armoury of Soviet arms. Moroto was close to the Kenyan border and its mountain, by the same name, and grasslands are the last bastion of pastoralists from both Kenya and Uganda who venture into this Karamoja territory in search of pasture during the dry seasons.

The volcanic mountains have water, plenty of it. Apart from the Karamojong, this was the best place for such arsenals – away from any scrutiny.

It is now estimated that the barracks stored 15,000 guns and two million rounds of ammunition for the Soviets before the Ugandan despot was overthrown by Tanzanian soldiers. That is how the guns – AK-47 assault rifles, the World War II Heckler & Koch-made G-3 army rifles, and millions of ammunition – ended up in the hands of the Matheniko-based pastoralists.

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