The dry season in the Karamoja District of northeastern Uganda should have ended. It
was late April and the rains should have come in March. Fields which had been
planted in anticipation were withered and scorched. By the roadsides and in the bush
borehole pumps were working all day and, in many cases, through the night. These crude
clanking contrivances, which pump water from Karamoja's some two hundred and
seventy boreholes, are often all that save the pitiful stock that water at them from death.
Cattle are the basis of Karamojong tribal economy. They are sacrificed in tribal religious
ceremonies; their possession is the cause of most inter-tribal conflict and they can buy a
A safari north from Moroto to inspect sites of rural water supplies seemed indicated.
The Jie County HQ were in Kotido, about sixty miles away. Most important to my crew
and me was the fact that at Kotido there is a rest-camp. One of the pleasant things in the
job of maintaining rural water supplies in Karamoja is to come back to a rest-camp after
a day of bone-shaking scrambles in a Land Rover, of thorns scratching paintwork, of
rocks chewing into tyres, until one wants to get out and carry the car. And then the restcamp.
What a pleasure to sit back in a camp chair and relax in the wonderful stillness.
We left Moroto early next morning and arrived at Kotido in the late afternoon. On the
way we had checked and repaired boreholes and had been annoyed by thousands of flies.
The flies of Karamoja have a unique persistence that keeps a person on the brink of
going berserk but never seem to have that little bit extra needed to tip the balance.
A couple of mornings and many borehole pumps later the horizon all around had taken
on a dark threatening look. Lightning flashed in the distance although its thunder was
still faint. There was no doubt about it this time, the rains were coming at last and, what
was more, were going to fall that day. Only one job remained for the crew to complete
our work in the area. I, in my Land Rover, had completed the inspection of boreholes
pumps and dams in the area.
In pouring rain I returned to the rest-camp in Kotido. With visions of roaring rivers
and gooey mud I feverishly threw my safari kit into the Land Rover. The rain was now a
steady heavy roaring downpour. Earth that was yesterday scorched and dry, had now
taken on a glistening voracious look. Large puddles had formed and rivulets were
starting to run. A panicky getaway from the rest-camp in four-wheel drive and the
journey home to Moroto had commenced. Toror mountain a few miles away, which had
stood proud and aloof throughout the dry season, was now hidden in a humiliating
blanket of grey. Water hissed and mud sloshed and spattered underneath the car. But
what about the lorry! The lorry and crew were about five miles along a bush track in the
Panyangara area. "They'll be all right" I reasoned. "There are five men on the lorry and
they have chains for the wheels. I will probably meet them along the road."
Before I realised it, the access track to Panyangara loomed up through the rain. Still
undecided what to do I turned into it. From now on it was low gear work. The pump
where the crew were working was in a low-lying stretch near a river. If only they had packed up in time and were on higher ground the situation would not be too serious.
I got the answer fifteen minutes later in a pathetic picture. Poor struggling mortals.
Lorry bogged to the axles with engine roaring and a bedraggled crew straining and
pushing in a vain attempt to shift it. "Why didn't you get out of here, Josefu, when you
saw the rains coming?" "We had nearly finished, Sir, and it seemed such a pity to leave
the work uncompleted." How could I be angry.
Now for the lorry. A rope fixed to the back of the Land Rover, the strain taken and off
we go. But no. Land Rover wheels and lorry wheels all spin ineffectually. The rain still
lashes down. Perhaps jerking the lorry with the Land Rover might help. It works! In a
long series of jerks, taking over four hours to earn us one and a half miles of progress,
we eventually reach higher ground. From there, we slosh our way to the main road. Main
road? By now it looks like a river but, from the wide smiles and looks of the crew, it
could have been the Great North Road. The crew were by now fagged out. It was now
late afternoon and, besides having done a morning's work, they had pushed and heaved
at the lorry in the pouring rain. Wearily they climbed aboard the lorry. It was up to the
driver now. He would have to drive fast enough in order to have sufficient momentum to
overcome deep clutching muddy patches and yet be slow enough to control skidding.
"Safari, Musa, let's go home."
We convoy a few hundred yards apart with my Land Rover in front. If only the
Kalotharich River isn't too high. We should be near it now. Another Land Rover looms
out of the rain. It is stopped by the Kalotharich River. Only one answer, the river is up.
And how! The second Land Rover belongs to the District Agricultural Officer. Together
we huddle in his car and eye the torrent that is now the Kalotharich. It was hard to
believe that the day before it had been a harmless dry river bed. The rain, lashing on the
bonnet, seems scornful and omnipotent.
Musa, in his oilskins, appears at the window. "Musa!" "Yes, Sir." "Musa, we are
going to cross this river now. If we wait conditions will probably get worse. You take the
lorry through first. If you get stuck our two Land Rovers will pull you out. Everybody
out except you and the turnboy." "Yes, Sir." No hesitation about Musa. A few moments
later the lorry moves towards the river. At once my confidence deserts me. What if it
overturns? What if the driver and turnboy are drowned? Too late! The front wheels dip
and the lorry is in. A cloud of spray, a few lurches in the swirling waters and the bonnet
starts to climb the opposite bank. They've made it! My heart, still palpitating, sinks
slowly back into place. My turn now. The remainder of the lorry crew pile into the two
Land Rovers. Into bottom gear and creep to the bank. In go the front wheels, full
accelerator, water comes through the floor, and then we are up the other bank. Amen to
that. Now the Agricultural Officer. "What's it like?" Apprehensively. "Piece of cake. No
trouble at all. You'll make it all right." Funny the reaction hysteria has. We are on the
way again with the Agricultural Officer in the lead. I take the number two position where
I can keep an eye on the lorry with the rest of the crew.
Further on the Agricultural Officer slows and stops. Puncture perhaps? No, just a
culvert washed away. Only one thing to do, back up a couple of hundred yards and
detour. A stroll in the drenching rain finds us a suitable detour and, after a bit of pushing
and pulling, we are soon on the way again. The accelerator feels odd with a one inch ayer of mud between it and the sole of my shoe. Another culvert with an approach
causeway looms up. Must be okay as the Agricultural Officer is out of sight. Over we go
and on. Five minutes later, on a straight stretch, a quick look back shows no lorry. Stop
and wait. Another five minutes and no lorry engine sounding in the distance. Trouble.
Probably at the last culvert. A careful turn around and then back towards Kotido. A few
minutes later the lorry is revealed athwart the causeway before the culvert. "Not your
fault, Musa. Too much camber on a muddy road." Rope out again and hook on the back
of the Land Rover. Alas, jerking and pulling avail nothing this time. The lorry is fast
athwart the causeway and resting on its chassis. "Right chaps, shovels out and dig. You
other two collect branches for putting below the wheels. The bigger the better." Poor
chaps, by now their meagre clothing has reached saturation point and water, quite
literally, is running out of them.
It is dusk when the causeway is eventually persuaded to release the lorry. Only
another thirty miles to Moroto and the only sizeable obstacle in between is the Lokichar
River. That should not present too much of a problem however as it is bridged. My
headlights pick up the Agricultural Officer's car again. It is stopped. What was the
Lokichar River is now revealed as a sea of water a quarter of a mile across. Defeat on the
last lap? Mud, Kalotharich and culverts all crossed for nothing? Why didn't we just stay
in Kotido. At least we would have enjoyed some degree of comfort. As we stared in
frustration at the water, we noticed that our headlights showed most of the bridge rails
showing above the water. What if we drive our cars on a line between the bridge rails?
The depth of water over the causeway and above the bridge might be shallow enough to
allow us to cross. Get out and test it first. If a piece of the causeway, or of the bridge,
were missing, we dare not attempt a crossing. A cautious and frightening wade across
the causeway and bridge reveals that a crossing by car is possible. I secretly hoped that
the lorry crew or the Agricultural Officer would raise some objection. No hope, those
chaps were Moroto bound, come what may.
My turn to cross first this time. Dark water all around. Slowly does it. Once on the
other side, I looked back to give the thumbs up sign but neither the Agricultural Officer
or Musa had waited. They were already half way over and their easy confident manner
destroyed completely the dare-devil grin I was trying to manufacture just for their
On again and I began to feel a bit tired. Should be striking the main Moroto-Soroti
Road soon. Yep, here it is, the main road at last. Only twelve miles to Moroto now. The
main road is a sea of mud in places, but somehow it has a warm friendly look about it. I
work the Land Rover up to twenty mph and it appears to be flying. Then the township
and then we go our three separate ways. But before we split, I stop the lorry for a
moment to congratulate and thank the crew. They had been magnificent.
Home at last. My wife meets me on the verandah with a torch. It is 11 pm. "Had a
good safari ? I would have thought that, with the rains, you would have tried to get home
a bit earlier. Were you shooting guinea-fowl or something?"