Conservationists and the public at large were baffled when news broke two days ago that High Court Judge Musalu Musene had delivered a ruling which effectively returned a seized consignment of blood ivory coming from the Congo to the unknown owners. Immediate allegations of a corrupt ruling were made and calls emerged to the judiciary disciplinary body to take action against the judge, whose future now looks bleak if any improprieties can be pinned on him.
Top officials from the Uganda Wildlife Authority as well as from the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities also immediately vowed to prevent the consignment of over 850 pieces of ivory, seized in October last year, from ever leaving Uganda and it is understood that an appeal will be launched against the ruling, which according to one source at UWA ‘stinks of malpractice and suggests the judge is either totally incompetent or was gotten to’.
Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba too expressed her outrage and disappointment with the judgment when she said in a media release received yesterday afternoon: ‘We are very dismayed by the said judgment and the likely implications it has for Uganda as a contracting party to CITES Convention [but] most importantly the damage this has on tourism development and wildlife conservation in Uganda. A team of lawyers of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and URA have already filed a notice of appeal to challenge the judgement. We shall decisively pursue the criminal prosecution of the suspects until they are brought to book. Security agencies continue to pursue these suspects who are at large’.
Uganda, unlike neighbour Kenya, where a new wildlife law with fines up to 20 million Kenya Shillings and life in prison for poachers, smugglers and middlemen is now in place, Uganda has dragged her feet over putting an amendment of the current law before parliament, while however finding the time to incur global wrath and active decampaigning over two recently passed bills, the so called ‘Anti Mini Skirt Bill ‘ and the ‘Anti Gay Bill’, which has already led to Norway withdrawing all financial support for Uganda and other foreign governments considering similar action. Leading human rights activists and bodies have already started to call for a boycott of Uganda as a destination, citing brutally harsh treatment for gays and the likely implication for female travellers wearing miniskirts or ‘hot pants’, especially after several women across Uganda were already attacked and stripped naked by mobs as a result of targeted and thinly concealed comments by politicians.
Tourism circles are concerned about the potential fallout for their business vis a vis the two bills and the latest damage done with the judicial ruling to release the seized ivory but only time will tell just how extensive and lasting the damage will be to Uganda’s reputation abroad. Find more information about Destination Uganda via www.visituganda.com and about the country’s national parks and game reserves via www.ugandawildlife.org. Watch this space.