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Peacebuilding at the community level helps create sustainable change for a brighter future. 

Guided by the belief that “a better world is possible,” Mercy Corps has engaged in this work in Uganda since 2006. Their two-year program in the Karamoja region, Securing Peace and Promoting Prosperity, sought to address the region’s history of mass violence and instability. The program was also known as EKISIL, the word for “peace” in the local Ngakarimojong language. 

U.S. investments play a critical role in peacebuilding work worldwide. Mercy Corps’ EKISIL work was funded through two peacebuilding accounts under the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) — Reconciliation Programs and the Complex Crises Fund

We spoke with Mercy Corps about the “transformational” progress this peacebuilding work made in Karamoja and the need for long-term investments to foster enduring peace. 

The Roots of Conflict

The northeastern corner of Uganda, bordering Kenya and South Sudan, is a region known as Karamoja. Home to a diverse grouping of farming and herding communities, Karamoja has experienced cycles of reciprocal livestock raiding and inter-communal armed violence since at least 1944. 

“[Peacebuilding efforts] are needed at scale, and need to be matched with community-led activities that seek to address the persistent and fundamental challenges plaguing Karamoja,” said Mark Guti, Chief of Party for EKISIL at Mercy Corps. 

High poverty rates and the impacts of climate change in the region have only worsened these problems, fueling competition over livestock, pastureland, and access to water. Without ways to resolve tensions between groups, violent conflict grew, and opportunities to address these critical issues became harder and harder to find.

But with EKISIL building on the progress of past peacebuilding efforts in Karamoja, things are beginning to change for the better.

The Transformative Impact of Peacebuilding 

EKISIL was designed as a pilot case for USAID’s Climate Risk Management tool, building on the work of previous conflict management and resilience efforts in Karamoja. It operated with an integrated approach to address the many drivers of conflict, including work on land and water sharing, and the inclusion of more women in community peace initiatives.

Community-led mediation, not guns and rifles, are now resolving disputes. 

Conflict resolution trainings provided by Mercy Corps have enabled communities to share resources and work together on land and water projects in areas affected by climate change. Young people from communities previously divided by conflict have found shared interests, helping stop possible future conflict in its tracks. Community-led mediation, not guns and rifles, are resolving livestock disputes. 

Communities and local governments in Karamoja are now using peace dialogues on a regular basis, which have effectively reduced violence and tensions. Women’s Peace Forums are connecting female peacebuilders with local women to form trauma-healing groups and to promote social reconciliation. 

Mark himself has witnessed “transformational change” from these initiatives. All of this work together, he said, has “contributed to a renewed vision of stability in the region.” But he emphasized that peacebuilding is a long-term process. While Resource-sharing agreements and cross-communal collaboration has opened the door for further peace to take root, success requires repairing damaged relationships and reforming institutions. 

“For positive change to last, everyone affected by a destructive conflict has to be involved in the process of building peace,” he said. 

Creating Lasting Peace 

When asked what he want to share with lawmakers in the United States, Mark elaborated on the need for stable peacebuilding funding. “Transforming the way a society deals with conflict is a complicated process that cannot be achieved instantly.” 

Building lasting peace is a long-term commitment. And the work is not done. 

Although things are improving community-by-community in Karamoja, Mercy Corps and other organizations will continue working to address these same issues across the broader region. And while FCNL constituent advocates successfully protected peacebuilding programs in the FY 2024 federal budget, we will continue working to strengthen these critical investments in the future. 

Building lasting peace is a long-term commitment. And the work is not done. 

Lauren Evans

Lauren Evans

Program Assistant for Peacebuilding (2023-2024)

Lauren Evans is FCNL’s 2023-2024 program assistant for Peacebuilding, assisting the team in advocating for sustainable and nonviolent U.S. foreign policy.