Your Excellency the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister,
Your Excellency the President of Gabon,
Your Excellency the President of Botswana,
Your Royal Highness Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge,
The First Lady of Kenya,
The Hon. Attorney General of the USA,
Hon. Ministers of the United Kingdom,
The Giants Club,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
On behalf of the Ugandan delegation, I would like to thank and congratulate Her Excellency the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister for organizing and hosting this important meeting to deliberate on the complex global challenge of illegal wildlife trade that is threatening our wildlife species with extinction.
This conference comes at a time when the World and especially the African continent is faced with unprecedented illegal killing of elephants for ivory, rhinos for the rhino horns, pangolins for their scales and several other species for their various commercial values. The need to come together as stakeholders involving source, transit and consumer states, conservation partners and well-wishers to devise means and mechanisms of addressing this menace cannot be overemphasized.
Key wildlife species demanded in the illegal wildlife trade, particularly the African elephant and rhino, represent the symbol and heritage of Africa, play a significant ecological role in the ecosystems and are key attractions for tourism. We, therefore, strongly support interventions to eliminate illegal wildlife trade and trafficking.
We are aware that illegal wildlife trade and trafficking does not only threaten conservation but the security and economies of our nations. Proceeds from this illegal trade have been linked to financing of terrorism and civil wars and, therefore, these criminal gangs require cooperation of governments to be defeated.
Uganda remains committed to stop the menace of the illegal wildlife trade at national, regional and global scale. Indeed Uganda has, through our robust policies and programs, managed to keep at bay the illegal killing of elephants. Uganda is among the few countries in the world with an increasing elephant population. Elephant population in Uganda had almost crushed at only 2,000 individuals in 1983 due to the past political turmoil in Uganda. When NRM established the rule of law, security and stability, we have been able to recover the elephant population trend to a positive trajectory and the numbers continue to increase, now standing at 6,000.
Uganda has made significant strides in combating illegal wildlife trade. We have been able to:
(a) Strengthen law enforcement efforts through
recruitment, training and equipping our rangers. Security agencies work together to ensure safety and security of tourists and wildlife resources.
(b) We have established a Financial Intelligence
Authority with an enabling law to seize assets of traffickers and prosecute money launderers.
(c) Uganda has established a specialized wildlife
court to expeditiously try all wildlife trafficking cases in an effective manner. Since the Court was established three years ago, we have improved our conviction rate from less than 50% to over 90% for all wildlife crime cases.
(d) We have established specialized wildlife crime
intelligence and wildlife crime investigations units within Uganda Wildlife Authority to augment existing conventional crime intelligence and investigations services.
(e) We have deployed sniffer dogs on our points of
entry and exits and these are doing a great job in curbing illegal wildlife products transiting through Uganda.
(f) We continue to strengthen our international Airport and legal framework. In the Wildlife Bill now before Parliament, Government is proposing a life sentence penalty for poaching and trafficking in endangered species for commercial purposes.
At East African Community level, we already have a regional strategy to combat poaching, illegal wildlife trade and trafficking. This harmonizes our efforts at regional level to work together. I call upon conservation partners to support implementation of this strategy.
Issues of illegal wildlife trade cannot be divorced from poverty, the structure of the society and community livelihoods. In Uganda, for example, 20% of the money generated from wildlife is shared with the local people neighboring protected areas to help improve their livelihoods.
We must, therefore, strive to get our people out of poverty through sustainable tourism, investments, trade and industrialization. Moreover, the structure of the society in Africa needs to change as happened in Europe. Following the renaissance in Europe, the European society metamorphosed from a Peasant, artisan and feudal society to a society of the middle class and skilled working class. This was as a result of the industrialization and total monetization of the economy.
Industries and developed services encourage urbanization. This means less people in Agriculture and the rural areas so that there is less conflict between man and wildlife and less temptation to invade the forests and the wetlands.
The People in the USA that depend on agriculture are only 2%. In Uganda, the figure is still 68.7%. You cannot, however, industrialize a country or modernize services if you do not work on infrastructure –the electricity, the roads, the railway, the piped water, the ICT backbone, the schools, the health centres, etc.
You cannot, therefore, talk of sustainable conservation without talking about social-economic transformation. You cannot maintain under-development and you expect sustainable and smooth conservation. The population that is engaged in disguised unemployment in the rural areas will inevitably clash with the Wild life and assault the flora.
As we are struggling with the duo challenges of conservation and socio-economic transformation, we need to put in place short term measures to stop wildlife vs man conflict. The crowded villages like the ones of Bunyaruguru and Kasese, need to be separated from the conservation areas with: the electric fences; bees; the growing of tea which, I hear, the elephants do not like; and the excavations of deep trenches (obusya). These short term measures are definitely greatly needed so as to avoid the souring of relations with the population.
I, therefore, call upon Governments and partners gathered here to strengthen collaboration and cooperation especially in sharing intelligence, capacity development-equipments, training and financing, strengthening laws and cross border law enforcement, reducing demand for illegal wildlife products and strengthening legal mechanisms for commercialization of wildlife to support sustainable development. Uganda remains steadfast and committed to this cause.
Yoweri K. Museveni (Gen. Rtd)
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA