For generations, nestled on the slopes of Mount Moroto in Uganda, one of the country’s oldest minority groups has called this region home. These are the Tepeth people, residing in the shadow of the imposing mountain, approximately 38 kilometers from Moroto town, within the confines of Tapac Sub-county. Their existence is defined by a unique and challenging reality, where access to their community involves navigating a winding, treacherous marram road, riddled with perilous car-wrecking potholes.
The Tepeth tribe, numbering at least 40,000 individuals, with a significant portion being women and children, inhabit conical mud and wattle huts scattered across the ridge. Their habitat encompasses semi-arid savannahs and scrubby forests, yet lacks access to fundamental necessities such as education, clean water, electricity, and healthcare. Additionally, they grapple with the persisting issue of Female Genital Mutilation, as their culture remains largely uninfluenced by modernization.
The Tepeth people are believed to be the indigenous inhabitants of the Karamoja plains. Traditionally, they were hunter-gatherers, their way of life intricately tied to the bounties of the wild. However, the 1970s and 1980s saw a significant decline in wildlife populations, prompting a shift from their ancestral traditions towards agro-pastoralism. This transition, though inevitable, has not been without its challenges.
Their plight draws parallels to the Yazidi sect’s situation when they sought refuge on Sinjar Mountain in Iraq, besieged by ISIS militants. However, in this case, the Tepeth are not refugees; they are prisoners in their own homeland, grappling with the harsh realities of their remote existence. Government support to improve their quality of life has been limited, leaving them in a state of isolation and neglect.
Lokiru Sisto, the Moroto District security officer, highlights the looming threats that have plagued the Tepeth community over the past decade. The most significant menace emanates from the neighboring Turkana region and its inhabitants, resulting in the loss of Tepeth lives. Additionally, the Matheniko people have frequently engaged in cattle rustling, further exacerbating the security situation. In recent times, six individuals were tragically shot and killed by the Turkana, as they attempted to descend from the mountain and establish settlements. This year alone, these confrontations have claimed 21 lives, underscoring the precarious security conditions faced by the Tepeth people.