Uganda: Govt Must Push for Swift Resolution of Diplomatic Row With China Over Ivory


The Observer

Date Published
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Uganda has been drawn into a diplomatic row with China, the world’s second-largest economy, over controversial ivory trafficking claims in a recent letter authored by President Museveni.

In Museveni’s May 2 letter, in which he was issuing instructions to the Inspectorate of Government to investigate alleged maladministration at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the president named two Chinese ‘diplomats’ he said were complicit in the alleged ivory scam.

Not so long after Museveni’s claim became public, the Chinese ambassador spoke out on June 1, saying the two alleged diplomats – Li Wejin and one Yinzhi – had never worked at their Uganda mission.

Indeed, the Chinese took the matter so seriously that on the same day, their foreign affairs ministry in Beijing was pouring cold water on President Museveni’s claim before the world press.

For a long time, China has been arguably the world’s largest market for ivory, which has derailed global efforts to stop elephant poaching. Yet, according to the National Geographic Society of the United States of America (USA), international trade in ivory has been banned since 1990.

But with countries like China and USA condoning ivory trade domestically, the effort to uphold the ban was always going to be a tall order for those who care to stop it.

Some 30,000 elephants are killed by poachers each year, says the National Geographic Society, which adds that such a rate will extinguish Africa’s elephants within just a few generations if nothing changes.

Recently, however, Chinese authorities had a change of heart on the matter. The Asian country publicly made a commitment to close down all its licensed ivory facilities by the end of 2017. One can, therefore, understand the unease within Chinese diplomatic circles when President Museveni announced that some of their own diplomats were engaging in ivory trafficking.

On Monday, this newspaper reported that the Chinese embassy has written to our ministry of foreign affairs seeking a meeting over the matter.

The onus is now on Uganda to put a swift end to this matter, given the close diplomatic and trade links between the two countries. We must investigate this matter and let the world know the truth.

If the president made a claim that cannot be verified, then we should apologise and clear China’s name. However, if the embassy is trying to cover up the activities of its diplomats, then we must put their assertions to shame. In either case, it is only the truth that will set each of us free.