The executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Mr. Moses Mapesa, has expressed the body’s plans for the next two years, and, in doing so, he has also shared his background in the field as well as his plans after retiring from his current position.
eTN: Tell our readers a little about your background and career to this point.
Moses Mapesa: As a child, I was always fascinated by nature features like lakes, mountains, wild creatures, plants etc. Biology and geography were my favorite subjects. Later, I chose to read forestry at the university for my undergraduate studies and then environment and natural resource management at masters level. After my first degree, I was offered a research position at the then Uganda Institute of Ecology and later as a warden within the Uganda National Parks. I have since then (1988) risen through the ranks and worked in different national parks and departments till today (2008) when I serve as chief executive of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
eTN: Which is the biggest challenge you ever had to deal with while at the helm of UWA?
Mapesa: My biggest challenge was ensuring that part of Queen Elizabeth National Park was not degazetted to accommodate the Basongora pastoralists, who have laid a claim on it. It took the Inter-Ministerial Committee far too long to make any recommendations. I had to intervene and stop the pastoralists from expanding further into the park and inevitably we had to use guns against them after they threw spears and injured park rangers. Fortunately nobody was killed. There was a public outcry after these nasty encounters and indecision on the part of the Inter-Ministerial committee. I had to defend my actions and justify my resistance to degazettement of any portion of the park to H.E The President of the Republic of Uganda and he agreed with me. We ultimately moved the pastoralists out of the park peacefully and found them alternative land. This was between March 2006 and October 2007. [Reported in various eTN column items at the time]
eTN: Is UWA nearing its goal of financial self-sustainability yet? Are you satisfied with the visitor numbers to the protected areas?
Mapesa: UWA now finances up to 65 percent of its recurrent budget. We need more visitors to the protected areas which are now secure and safe.
eTN: sections of the tourism sector have been blaming UWA about clauses in existing concessions (exclusion zones) and for having signed the Nkuringo concession with the community there. What is your position on those populist attacks on UWA?
Mapesa: The exclusion clauses at the time of signing the old concessions were inevitable. Times have changed and these have been reviewed. But at the same time we should encourage developments outside the protected areas and not inside. Even UWA’s management infrastructure is now being moved outside the protected areas. For example, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, Kidepo, Rwenzori, L. Mburo, and Kibale. This is the trend globally as more land is required for conservation.
On Nkuringo, the communities who have been very cooperative even when gorillas have spent over 60 percent of their time on community land must be pro-actively supported. The people raising objections have not suffered any losses to the gorillas [sic: unlike the Nkuringo community directly affected] and are simply acting like scavengers who do not hunt but wait for dead carcasses.
eTN: What is UWA’s key focus for the next two years?
Mapesa: UWA’s focus for the next two years will be to consolidate gains in safety and protection of the parks and reserves, to improve community relations and increase benefits and to strive to be self financing through control of expenditure and increased revenue by building business partnerships.
eTN: There is talk that the World Bank is considering adding another phase of the PAMSU project to further enhance capacity building and infrastructural developments. What is your read of this and what role do development partners and donors play for UWA?
Mapesa: It is not just talk; we have discussed further support with the World Bank to ensure that we consolidate the gains made in the past eight years. We have to finish the staff offices and accommodation and we need the tourism infrastructure like roads, airstrips and hotels. Once this is done we shall have anchored Uganda’s conservation and tourism to firmly become a leader in the region.
eTN: UWA under your leadership has been free of public scandals. How did you keep the organization on the straight and narrow?
Mapesa: Well, we have established policies and procedures which guide our actions. I believe in timely sharing of information, transparency and dialogue. I respect my supervisors but advise them. I recognize my staff as part of my team mates, am only a captain and not the boss. I consult from within and without. I speak my mind and accept constructive criticism.
eTN: Visitors coming to the parks safe?
Mapesa: UWA has a strong, trained and equipped ranger force. We have a reliable and efficient radio communication network; we have patrol vehicles, patrol boats and 2 aircraft for surveillance. We coordinate with other security agencies, mainly the police. We have learnt from past mistakes. The parks are no doubt safe and secure. And we have ability to respond to any emergencies in record time. Of great importance is for the visitors to HEED our staff’s instructions.
eTN: Has cooperation with neighbouing countries over border transcending shared ecosystems born any fruits yet, like movement of tourists from Uganda into the Kenyan side of Mt. Elgon, or from Mgahinga National Park into the Rwandan side of the park when tracking gorillas? How often do you formally meet with your counterparts to discuss common challenges and find harmonized solutions?
Mapesa: Our trans-boundary linkages are functional. We have had tourists climb Mount Elgon on either side into the other side. We have a functional mechanism to track gorillas even when they cross boarders and share revenue.
We meet [our counterparts from neighboring countries] on quarterly basis. At field level interaction can even be on daily basis. The prospects are even brighter.
eTN: UWA has recently sanctioned the take over of a wildlife reserve by a private investor for management. Are there more such PPP’s in the pipeline and if yes, in which areas?
Mapesa: As a matter of fact all eligible areas for private public partnership management have all been offered out. Kabwoya, Katonga, Pian Upe, Matheniko, Ajai and East Madi Wildlife Reserves. In addition Local Governments in areas in Central Uganda, Kalangala and the North have already contacted UWA about management of wildlife outside protected areas in partnership with the private sector. These arrangements should save public costs (including vermin and problem animal control) while enhancing revenue generation and community benefits. .
eTN: Hunting is still generally prohibited in Uganda, what lessons can UWA draw from the pilot project for hunting outside Lake Mburo National Park, and what would you say if asked today if hunting should be permitted again?
Mapesa: Sport hunting is now permissible based on the lessons leant from the pilot project around L. Mburo. Of course, the regulatory mechanism is very important and we put it in place already.
eTN: What are your plans for life after UWA, will you go into private business, stay in the public sector or become a wildlife consultant with all the knowledge you have gained?
Mapesa: After UWA I will go into teaching, I would like to share my knowledge and experience with the younger generation that is why I would like to go teaching in a secondary school, a college or a university or all of the above. I have already made plans to undertake my PhD studies soon, and I also intend to retire from UWA sooner that later. I will certainly do some consulting, which even now I do through the World Commission on Protected Areas where I am a member and which recently [Oct 4, 2008] honored me with the prestigious Fred Packard Conservation Award. But there may be other opportunities, which I would consider at the time. Am involved with community welfare work in my district and will also continue with that.