A Chief Magistrate’s court in Fort Portal, Kabarole District has sentenced an Anglican priest Rev. Misaki Maitene and an ex-soldier Retired Captain Benon Twinomujuni to 12 months in prison after they were convicted of illegal possession of ivory and trading in protected species.
Also sentenced with the duo is one Monday Benedicto while their accomplice identified as Robert Atwijukye from Biharwe, Mbarara district jumped police bond and is on the run. Mr. Otto M. Gulamoi the Chief Magistrate Fort Portal (recently promoted to deputy registrar) last Thursday,23rd January, 2014,sentenced the three accused persons to serve 12 months in prison or pay a fine of 8 million shillings each.
The trio could not instantly produce the money and currently serving the sentence in Katojo prison, Kabarole district. The Bundibugyo based priest and his accomplices were first arrested on July 11th,2013 in Kabarole with elephant tusks(ivory)weighing 8 kgs, by officers from the Joint Anti Terrorism Unit(JATT).
On interrogation, the suspects stated that Rev. Maitene had travelled to DRC for burial of a relative when he met local people who requested him to get for them a market for ivory in Uganda. On return, the Reverend priest linked up with one Robert Atwijukye of Biharwe Mbarara who identified a buyer.
The priest and his two colleagues reportedly mobilized 7 million shillings from a local Sacco to send to the Congolese sellers who in turn delivered the 8 kgs of ivory promising to deliver the rest later. When the buyers who happened to be from security circles arrived in July, they learnt through interaction with the sellers(suspects)that another 30 kg piece of ivory had arrived at Busunga border post, Bundibugyo which attracted the buyers and drove along with the priest to pick it.
The suspects were tricked to go to Bundibugyo bank for payment but were hesitant to release the 30kg piece of ivory, only to drive with two of the sellers to pick the money during which they were arrested. The two were made to persuade their colleagues left behind at the border post that the sellers were on their way back with the money in the process and more got arrested and were transferred to Kampala for interrogation while the ivory recovered from them were left at Fort Portal regional police.
After interrogation by anti terrorism, the suspects were transferred back to Fort Portal for prosecution and had been on remand in Katojo prison until last Thursday when they were sentenced. Detectives from Fort Portal are continuing with investigations and efforts to arrest another key suspect working with an immigration staff at Busunga who is thought to be the key person in the ivory trade. In a related development, the UWA law enforcement and the legal units are following up the case of another Rev.Baguma from Kabarole and his co-accused in the case of illegal possession of ivory. The case is due for further hearing in Fort Portal court.
A visit to Murchison Falls National Park is incomplete without a hike to the top of the falls using the famed Baker historical trail which offers the best viewing points for the Murchison and Uhuru (Freedom) falls.
Of late, most of the visitors have asked for their itinerary to include the hike from the bottom to the top of the falls along the steep cliffs of the river with stop overs at the famous Baker’s view rock and other sharp bends that provide a panoramic view of the river and parts of the northern bank.
From the early morning game drives towards the delta, hundreds of visitors book boat rides to the bottom of the falls and instead of a return journey on the water, prefer to disembark and do the hike, thanks to the concrete stairs and rail guards erected by UWA. The visitors are then picked by the vehicles which use the southern bank access route to pick them from the top of falls car park.
David and Christopher the great-great grandsons of the famed Victorian explorer Sir. Samuel Baker have recently added value to the top of Murchison falls trail by installing an interpretational signage detailing the expedition that led to the discovery of the spectacular falls and Lake Albert as the European explorers searched for the source of the River Nile.
In marking the 150th anniversary of the discovery which transformed Murchison Falls National Park into one of the world’s leading destination, the Baker descendants sought to retrace their ancestor’s foot steps before planting markers in different areas of Masindi, Gulu, and Fort Patiko.
Quoting from their ancestor’s dairy, the marker atop the Murchison falls describes how Sir Samuel White Baker followed the course of the Victoria Nile from Lake
Albert and later sighted a spectacle of the entire volume of the river roaring furiously through a rock bound pass, plunging in one leap of about 120 feet. He named it the Murchison falls after the President of the Royal Geographical Society.
The marker also details how Sir Baker, a British explorer, officer, engineer and writer made two expeditions to Africa and served as the Governor general of Equatorial Nile Basin (today’s South Sudan) which he established as the province of Equatoria between 1869-1873.Baker is mostly remembered as the first European to view Lake Albert which he named after the recently deceased Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria.
His second wife, Lady Florence who was saved from a slave market in central Europe joined him on his exploits of Africa and the couple is famed for their efforts to abolish salve trade in the region.
In Murchison Falls National Park, the Baker descendants were impressed by the developments on the trail by Uganda Wildlife Authority which has improved the surface with concrete stairs and rail guards making the walk from the bottom to the top of falls more user friendly. They promised to promote the trail as an additional tourism product on top of the game drives,boat ride, nature walks and birding in Uganda’s largest, oldest and most visited protected area.
David Baker says he met with Julian Monroe Fisher a renowned explorer and anthropologist in January 2013 and agreed to create trail makers to commemorate 150 years since Sir Samuel Baker trekked in Africa from lake Albert to the top of Murchison Falls.
He added that the trail is a historical one to commemorate the Europeans that came to Africa to search for the source of River Nile as well as put an end to slave trade.
Christopher Baker remarked that walking the trail to the top of the falls was one of his most memorable experiences and added that “this is the most romantic place I have visited in my life”.
Tom Okello the Conservation Area Manager promised to modernize and market the park to regain the glory of the 1960s when it used to be most visited in Africa.
Earlier, Christopher Baker enjoyed a one and half hour long boat ride to the bottom of the falls during which he marveled at schools of hippos, migratory birds, a variety of antelopes along the river banks, Nile crocodiles sun bathing and spectacular landscapes including the Nyamusika cliff .He also donated a pair of ultra modern binoculars made in Germany, to the guides of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
There are stories currently running on social networks especially face book, insinuating that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is now part and parcel of the illegal ivory trade and that staff of UWA seem to be profiteering from the illicit trade in ivory.
This is not only unfortunate but a misrepresentation of facts as UWA is at the fore front of fighting illegal ivory trade and other forms of wildlife trafficking in Uganda. UWA is mandated by law to conserve Uganda’s wildlife resources on behalf of the government for the benefit of the present and future generations. It would be a disservice for the same UWA to champion the decimation of wildlife through illegal wildlife trade.
To demonstrate the resolve of UWA to curb poaching and illegal wildlife trade, UWA in 2013 established an Intelligence Unit, recruited and trained a specialized force of 80 intelligence officers that have been deployed in strategic areas across the country to help prevent wildlife crime as opposed to fire fighting.
The current ivory seizures being reported about in the media are a result of the intelligence network that has been established by UWA which works very closely with other security and law enforcement agencies. UWA has been actively involved in all international engagements and has used the opportunity of Uganda’s position on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Standing Committee to participate in all international decisions to curb illegal ivory trade.
As recent as December 2013, UWA under the leadership of the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities participated in a high level African Elephant Summit held in Gaborone Botswana during which African countries that have elephants and are therefore potential sources of ivory, Asian countries that are major transit and ivory destination countries as well as countries that have strongly supported the strong measures against illegal ivory trade as donors and other Inter Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations signed a declaration and committed to implement 14 urgent measures to curb elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade in 2014. UWA is spearheading the implementation of these urgent measures in Uganda.
On 19th December 2013, UWA working with Aviation Police after getting intelligence information,seized a consignment at Entebbe International Airport containing 440 pieces of raw ivory (elephant tusks) and 372 pieces of worked ivory in form of bungles and chop sticks. The consignment was destined for Malaysia through Lagos. On thorough examination of the boxes, 15 rhino horns were found stuffed together with ivory pieces and three of the tusks were marked with numbers similar to the markings we put on confiscated ivory that is kept in the UWA strong room. We are still investigating the source of the ivory including the marked ivory but this should not be surprising as UWA in 2011 dismissed a staff working as the Armoury’/Strong Room Clerk for involvement in the theft of 10 pieces of ivory from the strong room.
Some of the stolen ivory was recovered and kept at Central Police Station as part of the exhibits in a case file that was opened against the said staff and other accomplices.
Some of the lost ivory was never recovered and since it is already marked, it can always be intercepted as has been the case here. It is a misrepresentation of facts to state that because of this, UWA staffs are now part of the illegal ivory scam. The presence of 15 rhino horns in the illegal ivory consignment is an indication that some of the ivory may have come from elsewhere and was only transiting through Uganda as Uganda’s current population of 14 rhinos is still intact. Uganda records every elephant lost and the data on elephant mortalities over the last five years is too small compared to the illegal ivory that has been confiscated in Uganda in 2013 alone. That is why we believe that we need concerted efforts to fight this illicit trade that is clearly cross border in nature.
The ivory stock currently kept at Uganda Wildlife Authority is very safe and well kept in a strong room that is accessed through a password protected locking system operated by three officers. The door to the strong room can only be opened after entering the three passwords in the right sequence/combination. One therefore needs all the three officers to access the strong room. At the time ivory was lost in the strong room, UWA had lost a number of staff through terminations and as a result the password to the strong room was disabled and the room accessed by only the key. This has since been rectified and new passwords installed. We have also instituted stock taking inventories conducted by Internal Audit every three months to ensure that any losses from the strong room can be detected early. Since the loss of ten pieces of ivory between 2010 and 2011, no other loss has happened. The staff involved was dismissed and a case opened against him and other suspects (non-staff) which is yet to be disposed off.
UWA remains committed to fighting the illegal trade in ivory and other forms of wildlife trafficking and calls upon the general public and all government institutions and agencies to join hands and fight the illicit trade that threatens our wildlife heritage. Apportioning blame to UWA without acknowledging the efforts UWA is putting in place is very unfair and counterproductive.
Conserving for Generations.
David and his brother Christopher Baker who are the great-great grandsons of the famous 19th century Victorian explorers, Sir Samuel and Florence Baker, are this week back in Uganda on a great expedition to retrace the footsteps of their ancestor, 150 years after he made the existence of Lake Albert and Murchison Falls known to the rest of the world.
David aged 74,was last here in early 2013 with his daughter Melanie during which they visited various places in Masindi,Hoima,Wanseko,Butiaba,Fort Patiko in Gulu, Karuma and Murchison Falls National Park.
This year , David has returned with his brother to plant markers at various spots along the trail believed to have been used by his ancestor in 1864 when he named Lake Albert and the spectacular Murchison Falls. The development will culminate into the “Baker Trail” which will subsequently be promoted as a modern tourism product.
The Bakers jetted into the country on 4th January 2014 and drove to Masindi town to embark on planting the commemorative markers along the great trail. They later proceeded to Gulu with a stopover at Karuma Wildlife reserve where they planted another marker on January 6th, before heading to Gulu town.
In Gulu district, the duo will plant more markers and also visit the famous Sir Samuel Baker Secondary school built in memory of their ancestor who is famed to have fought the slave trade practice.
They will plant more markers at Fort Patiko, north of Gulu town and later head to Murchison Falls National Park with a climax of their visit being to plant a marker at top of the falls which is to be witnessed by high ranking government officials, diplomats, conservationists and the tourism fraternity on Saturday January 11th.
As the Bakers visit Uganda to celebrate the 150th anniversary of when the explorers trekked through the region from Southern Sudan, a renowned anthropologist and modern day African explorer, Julian Monroe Fisher, will be embarking on a long expedition following the Sir Samuel Baker trail, from Juba to Baker’s view point on the shores of Lake Albert.
Fisher’s expedition beginning January 8th is expected to last him over one and a half month ending in late February this year. This will be the Phase three of the Rail Riders Great African expedition and will be the inaugural trek along the over 500 mile trail that Fisher designed with Mr. David Baker, a consultant in Aviation Regulatory affairs in the UK.
The location of the markers to be planted by the Bakers is based on the writings, diaries and maps of Sir Samuel Baker as compared with other findings.
“In his dairy, Baker is quoted to have said , he saw a great lake in the south and mountains in the south west that are the Congo mountains that is the exact view we stood at and put GPRS coordinates and named it the Baker’s view.
David Baker, now 74,is a retired RAF Group Captain, who after a career in aviation is now a consultant on European Regulatory Affairs. His brother Christopher on the other hand, is currently Director of Mechanical Engineering at Carl Zeiss in Dublin CA. He spent four years in Africa during his late twenties. He designed and built the equipment for a start-up iron and steel foundry in Zimbabwe.
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s oldest and largest protected area which is also the most visited. The Baker’s trail is hoped to add to the diversity of attractions that make this national park a prime tourist destination.