History of Uganda, Teso and TESS
Teso is a fertile region in the north east of Uganda. Although its name is often confused with Tesco (a big UK supermarket chain), it has nothing to do with Tesco! Teso is bordered in the north and east by the semi-arid region of Karamoja, to the west by Lango and to the south by Bukedi. There are now about 1.2 million people living in Teso, 80% of whom are the Iteso who speak Ateso. But there is also a different, smaller tribal group living alongside and intermarrying with the Iteso called the Kumam who speak Kumam, a language related to Luo. Large populations of Iteso also live in parts of Bukedi, especially in Pallisa and around Tororo. There is also a large population of Iteso in western Kenya, in the Diocese of Katakwa.
In 1992, Teso was divided into two districts, Soroti and Kumi. Now, in 2011, it is divided into eight districts – Soroti, Kumi, Ngora, Bukedea, Serere, Kaberamaido, Katawki and Amuria. Teso was all one Anglican Diocese (Soroti) until 2001 when it was split into Kumi and Soroti Dioceses.
Brief history of Teso
North eastern Uganda is occupied mainly by two tribes - the Karimojong and the Iteso. They share a related language and historical roots, but have reacted very differently to Western influence. The Iteso people were pastoralists descended from the Karimojong tribe who migrated further south about four centuries ago in search of better pasture for their animals. They found a fertile area, where they became settled farmers, able to grow a variety of crops as well as graze their livestock. Their wealth lay in their cattle. Since the Iteso settled, the Karimojong have been raiding the cattle of Teso, trying to “retrieve their lost animals" from generations before.
The Karimojong are a cattle people who hold tenaciously to their traditional pattern of life focused around their large cattle herds. The Iteso, on the other hand, though they valued their cattle no less than the Karimojong, responded to Western education and welcomed the introduction of new methods of agriculture such as the use of ox ploughs and growing cash crops including cotton and groundnuts (peanuts).
Recent history of Teso
The people of Teso and Karamoja did not escape the traumas which afflicted Uganda in the years since Independence in 1962. Since about 1979, the people of Teso have often suffered from being marginalised as well as from lack of resources, drought and famine, conflicts and cattle raiding.
After the overthrow of Amin's regime in the Obote coup of 1979, fleeing soldiers left their armouries open in Karamoja and the Karimojong replaced their spears with guns which enabled them to pursue their traditional practice of cattle raiding on a more extensive and devastating scale. This particularly affected Teso as they ravaged the area, destroying homes, schools and clinics, stealing their cattle and killing so many people. About 80,000 Iteso have now been living in camps for up to 25 years for greater safety. Consequently, Teso, which was once the meat producing area of Uganda, and therefore relatively wealthy, lost all its cattle which devastated their way of life and their economy. The cotton industry was also destroyed.
Years of insurgency
In 1988, the new President Museveni sent in the Ugandan Army to help prevent Karimojong raids. Unfortunately, this only exacerbated the situation, and there was raiding and pillaging by the army and the formation of rebel groups in Teso. Thousands were caught in the middle and many were killed. This was followed by a government decision in February 1990 to force most of the people of Teso into designated areas so that the army could then operate a "scorched earth policy" to eradicate the rebels. However, no provision was made for shelter, food, water, sanitation, health or education in these designated areas, which slowly developed into camps. In the countryside, homes were destroyed and no-one was left behind to plant the crops. Many of the schools, churches, hospitals and clinics were also destroyed or ransacked and have been starved of resources ever since. Thousands died of disease in the camps or were killed when going out to find food; thousands more fled out of Teso. It has been estimated that the population of Teso fell from about 1 million to half a million during this period which is now referred to as the insurgency.
Rehabilitation in Teso
During the 10 years of relative stability between 1993 - 2003, the people of Teso were faced with the enormous task of rebuilding their lives and restoring their economic and social system as they start to rebuild their homes as well as cultivating the overgrown land, restocking with goats and a few cattle in the areas not affected by continuing Karimojong raids. All this was done with very little outside help. However, many were still trapped in camps due to extreme poverty and lack of resources.
During this process, there have often been setbacks, such as when the LRA invaded Teso in 2003, further sporadic raids by the Karimojong, droughts and floods, as well as the scourge of HIV/AIDS which appears to have been introduced into Teso during the insurgency in the late 1980s.
Invasion by the LRA rebels
Tragedy struck again on June 15th 2003, when the so-called "Lord's Resistance Army" (LRA) invaded Teso from the northwest. The LRA had waged an evil campaign of terror - child abduction, mutilation, murder and general destruction - since 1986/7, in their own tribal area of Acholi in northern Uganda. Although they met with such strong resistance in Teso that they were gone by January 2004, their widespread vicious attacks and abductions left Teso devastated once again. Thousands were killed or abducted, including children, and hundreds of thousands fled southwards. Once again, about 300,000 people were displaced within their own region into make-shift camps as well as living out in the open or on the verandahs of shops in the towns, living without any provision for the basic necessities of life. Most of what the people had worked so hard to achieve in the past 10 years was destroyed again.
Displaced people still in camps
Although the LRA has now left Uganda and is no longer a threat in Teso, thousands remain in camps, either because they have no resources to return home and start again by re-building homes and cultivating, or because of continuing fear of Karimojong raids.
Floods and droughts
The worst floods in memory hit many countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa in 2007. Teso was one of the worst affected areas and therefore featured on many of the BBC TV news reports about the floods in Africa. Not only were people cut off because roads were submerged and destroyed, but even worse, stored food and crops in the ground rotted, mud huts disintegrated and many other buildings such as schools and clinics were severely damaged. Once again, just as many people were beginning to get back on their feet, everything was lost and they had to start again. People suffered famine and starvation, which was aggravated by subsequent years of drought and unusual weather patterns.
Way of life in Teso
The people of Teso traditionally live in scattered homesteads, or villages as they call them, each homestead being surrounded by their land which they cultivate and use for cattle grazing. This pattern of life was seriously disrupted in the 1980s and 1990s because of the dangers from cattle raiders and then rebels and the army, which often forced people to move close to trading centres or institutions such as schools, hospitals and administrative headquarters.
They grow millet which forms the staple diet when cooked to form a stiff porridge called atap. They also grow cassava, peas, beans, sorghum, sweet potatoes, groundnuts and simsim (sesame). Deprived of cattle, sheep and goats in the late 1980s, they started keeping pigs, chickens and turkeys. However, now that there is relative peace and stability in Teso, people are once again acquiring goats, sheep and even cattle, although they will never again depend on such large herds of cattle as in former times. The countryside of Teso is an undulating plateau, with large outcrops of rock, divided by shallow lakes and swamps.
There are Anglican (Church of Uganda - COU), Roman Catholic and Pentecostal (mostly PAG) churches throughout Teso, with about 80% of the population being active, committed Christians. The churches are usually the most effective instruments for restoring the economic and social wellbeing of the people.
Children are the innocent victims
Currently, two thirds of the people of Teso are living below the absolute poverty line compared with 52% throughout Uganda generally. A third do not have access to a safe water supply within 1 km of their homes.
Thousands of children in Teso have been orphaned because of the conflicts, AIDS and other diseases, with no hope for the future because they cannot continue in education beyond primary school. 82% of children in Teso are officially categorised as being “vulnerable”. It is usually the girls who suffer the most, with few, if any, choices in life. Every family is struggling to cope with caring for their own children, but they also all have responsibility for extra orphans, so cannot afford to send all the children to school. Primary education is free (although many parents still cannot afford to provide school uniform and other items required by the school), but secondary education is beyond the means of many families, especially when caring for orphans as well. 16% of the population of Teso have never had any formal education, whilst 40% have not attended school for longer than three years. Only 27% of children who should be in secondary school are actually still in school. Girls who have to drop out of school are soon married off as young teenagers and then all hope for a better future is lost.