Political Ecologies of Loss: Human-Elephant Conflict Amidst (Counter-) Insurgency, Famine and Climate Change in Karamoja

Hosted by LSE’s Centre for Public Authority and International Development

Esther Marijnen and Agnes Lotukei


In addition to violent cycles of famine, droughts, cattle rustling and counter-insurgency operations in Karamoja (north-eastern Uganda) – people are increasingly facing violence inflicted upon them by a growing elephant population. The loss that people experience caused by elephants -the destruction of crops and death- needs to be understood in the broader context of political and economic exploitation of the region dating back to the colonial period.

Due to climate change elephants are increasingly looking for food and water outside of the borders of the Kidepo Valley National Park, e.g. some water bodies are often over-taken by elephants depriving both livestock and people from accessing water. Pressures from poachers in South Sudan becomes yet another threat to the animals, making them move from the north of the park to the southern and western fringes of the park. It is in these areas, that people mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and increasingly elephants destroy crops at a consumable stage, leaving people with nothing to harvest – and in total despair.

At the moment, UWA and other conservation organisations do not try to keep the elephants within the borders of the park. Instead, conservationists operating in Karamoja aim to follow a ‘landscape approach’ to conservation– through the promotion of conservancies, wildlife corridors and tourism activities in the “Kidepo landscape”. In this project we analyse if these projects account for the multi-layered wounded landscape they operate in.

From a public authority perspective, the project looks how conservation actors and projects aims to mitigate human-elephant conflicts, and position themselves in relation to other public authorities in the region; government forces, warriors and local authorities.

Focusing on the people living in the wider Kidepo landscape and along the elephant corridors we focus on the different forms of loss they are experiencing. While research and media account on the region mostly focussing on armed cattle rustling, and Ugandan violent disarmament operations in the region. This overlooks how this violent environment is influencing relations between humans and elephants. Over the past year, a record number of people have been wounded or killed by elephants, which is contributing to intensified contestations against the creation of conservation corridors.

As part of this project we aim to bring people together to talk and reflect about the past and future of conservation in the region of Karamoja. How to come to a conservation approach that is attentive for the precarious security situation people are in, and that can help people – and elephants- in adapting to the worsening impact of climate change in the region.



Esther Marijnen

Esther is an Assistant Professor at the Sociology of Development of Change (SDC) chairgroup at Wageningen University and Research, and a visiting research fellow at the Centre of Public Authority and International Development, LSE. 

Agnes Lotukei

Agnes Lotukei

Agnes Lotukei is the director of Kapei Foundation in Karamoja, and an independent researcher.