It is with complete shock and horror that we read yesterday a post on Facebook by the seemingly defeated Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) – a Ugandan High Court Judge had inexplicably (well to us anyway) just ordered the local Revenue Authority (URA) to release 2.9 tons of ivory (or 832 pieces) that had been confiscated late last year to Mr Emile Kayumba Ogane, who is also currently facing criminal charges (the precise nature of which we are unaware of).
As soon as we read the news, KUAPO along with March for Elephants-SF and several other concerned world citizens and rafikis (friends) of wildlife started to dig deeper and investigate the issue. We wanted to know exactly how such a judgement could have been passed – what legal standing did this individual have to transport raw ivory via Uganda to China and the UAE. Apart from the initial outrage that such a decision evoked, given the precedent it sets and the setback to conservation and anti-poaching efforts on an international level, KUAPO was further disturbed by the fact that this ivory may somehow find itself in Kenya once it left Uganda and we wanted to ensure that all authorities in Kenya at border checkpoints were alert to the issue.
Soon thereafter news and views started to filter in. Unverified reports were brought to our attention from several sources and a fuller picture of the situation emerged.
Apparently Mr Emile Kayumba Ogane may actually be a front for the actual owners, the actual owners being Chinese businessmen who have supposedly bought the ivory from middlemen in the DRC and had planned to transport the shipment by road to Mombasa through Uganda. Supposedly, this ivory has been collected over time from Josephy Kony’s rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and other armed groups from the DRC. Once the ivory was collected, fake permits were forged in Goma, a town our sources tell us, infamous for being able to print and forge any sort of document. This permit essentially showed that Mr Ogane was allowed to collect ivory from ‘dead and culled elephants outside Game Parks and Conservation Areas’ of DRC and he was essentially shipping the ivory collected from this source.
Incredibly, the Ugandan court believed in the veracity of these documents and has effectively ordered the release of the impounded ivory to Mr Ogane. There has been no DNA checking of the shipment to verify the claims that it was collected from dead and culled elephants and no verification of the actual documents or permits presented. Surely CITES should have been notified and be aware of such a large consignment. Furthermore, DRC ‘s elephants are listed on Appendix 1 of CITES endangered species and therefore no ivory collected in this region could possibly be permitted for trade! Not only that the “quota” for ivory originating from DRC according to CITES should be ZERO!!!
So how did this come to pass – how could a Ugandan court order the release of this consignment? According to our sources, several mistakes were made by Ugandan authorities upon impounding the consignment. Firstly, the ivory should have been surrendered to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) immediately, since the URA would not recover any taxes from the consignment, and had little residual interest in keeping it. This technicality was used by Mr. Ogane’s lawyers to argue that the URA had no business impounding goods in transit, which were not destined for the local market. If the goods had been in custody of the wildlife authorities, the authorities could have used other conservation laws and international obligations to which Uganda is party, to convince the court that the ivory was lawfully impounded, and should be forfeited to the State, and destroyed thereafter.
Unfortunately, this mistake cost the URA the case. However, we also know that an appeal has been duly filed and that the ivory cannot be released to Mr Ogane until other criminal charges filed against him are also cleared. It has been heartening to see the response of the Ugandan Tourism ministry who have decried this horrible judgement and asked for it to be repealed.
As all this drama has ensued, our sources tell us a bidding war is in progress. The court order fully legitimised the shipment, and so there have been rumours of seven different orders being received by these businessman from overseas traders and middlemen.
Whether any of the above is completely true, we don’t know but even if snippets of it are, it is enough to make any conservationists blood boil. Here we are listening to leaders from 40 different nations making grandiose statements about putting an end to the illicit wildlife trade. There are rangers, communities, people on the ground – putting their lives at stake every day to stop poaching teams. And then one person – yes one person – makes a decision that could put BLOOD IVORY on the market and fund terrorism? Do we need to remind people what happened in Nairobi only a few months ago?
Ken Freight – if you are out there reading this – please make sure you check your shipments thoroughly. You, as do all of us, have an ethical responsibility towards stopping our heritage being pillaged. Don’t become party to it!
The upshot is that, for now, the ivory has not been released to Mr Ogane and we are all hopeful that our collective efforts will ensure that it does not. That it gets burnt in Uganda and the smell of that burnt ivory reaches the nostrils of all the traders and buyers out there, so they know it is no longer lucrative to trade in ivory or rhino horn or any wildlife parts. Let us show them that Africa is no longer ready to be a party to this illicit trade!
Do the Right Thing Uganda – Don’t release blood ivory into the hands of a suspected criminal…..
The world is watching!