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Transforming livelihoods at the margins: understanding changing class dynamics in Karamoja, Uganda

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posted on 2023-06-09, 05:31 authored by Matteo Caravani
Over the past two generations, livestock loss and hunger – caused by violent conflict and drought – drove many transhumant agro-­-pastoralists living in central Karamoja to resettle in unpopulated areas more suitable for agricultural production. These areas, mostly located in the southern and western parts of the region, were historically used by herdsmen as dry season grazing rangelands, while they now house permanent settlements populated by sedentarized ‘marginal farmers’ and town-­-based workers. The village of Lojom, located in one of the most fertile areas of Karamoja in the vicinity of a small trading centre, presents a perfect example of this process of livelihood transformation, since most of its inhabitants and predecessors were former herders. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the causes and drivers of socioeconomic differentiation in the village of Lojom through an extended case study. The major studies on pastoralism of the past thirty years demonstrate there has been an increased impoverishment and destitution among former pastoralists as a result of sedentarization. This thesis argues that the transition from the traditional agro-pastoral system to a more diversified set of economic activities and livelihoods has introduced new dynamics in class relations. The newly established relations of production among classes have polarized the inhabitants of Lojom into a handful of ‘elite’ families and a majority of destitute families. While the better off and middle classes foster their wealth accumulation through livelihood differentiation, residence in town and engagement with traditional livelihood systems, the poor and very poor barely meet their food requirements and have almost no opportunities for wealth accumulation. Further, this transition has also amplified the systematic exploitation of women’s labour by male heads of families, to the point that within a single family belonging to the wealthiest class the level of welfare of the women is much lower than that of the men. In conclusion, the current relations of production among social classes and gender groups in Lojom can only reproduce the material and social conditions that ultimately create and maintain poverty for many.


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