Uganda: How a Container of Ivory Was Nearly Shipped Out of Uganda


Herbert Ssempogo, The Observer

Date Published

The plot seemed perfect. Hadn’t it fallen through, a container loaded with Ivory would have exited Uganda.

Thanks to the consignee’s inconsistencies, authorities smelt a rat and impounded the container. Since the 2013 incident in Luzira, Kampala, the Ivory – 832 pieces – in the custody of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).

Like many cases involving precious items, this one has been characterised by pitfalls, including URA being asked to surrender the Ivory to the owner. But URA has remained steadfast.

The resolve to pursue the crime was rewarded on August 6, 2016, when a man suspected to be the owner, was arrested. That afternoon, Emille Kayumba Ogane from Rwanda boarded a plane en-route to Entebbe Airport. Earlier, security personnel had forwarded his name to immigration officials.

According to the URA spokesperson, Sarah Banage, Kayumba was arrested when he presented his travel documents to immigration personnel. A day later, the suspect appeared before the Anti-Corruption Court’s Patricia Amoko.

He denied allegations of acquiring restricted goods (832 pieces of ivory) contrary to section 200 (d) (ii) of the East Africa Community Customs Management Act 2004 and attempting to export the said ivory without a valid permit contrary to sections 66 and 76 of the Uganda Wildlife Act.

Prosecution told court that the accused and others still at large, in October 2013 at Luzira in Kampala district, allegedly acquired 832 pieces of elephant tusks, “which they knew or ought to reasonably have known to be restricted goods”.

Kayumba’s bail application fell through on August 11, 2016. Amoko argued that the suspect is a foreigner without a home in Uganda. Besides, court added, he fled when authorities intensified the investigation into the Ivory. That, according to court, was a bad precedent.

The case continues on August 25, 2016. However, four years ago, last week’s incidents seemed like a mirage. No sooner had URA towed the Ivory from Luzira to the head office in Nakawa, Kampala, than Kayumba petitioned Nakawa Magistrates’ Court.

Kayumba filed an affidavit claiming ownership of the Ivory, which he said was for export. The Ivory, he said, was from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The court granted his wish on February 2, 2014 when Justice Wilson Masalu Musene ordered URA to release the 832 pieces of Ivory. Additionally, he said that Kayumba could “re-export” the cargo out of Uganda.

“… … … .the goods have been wrongfully seized for two months and therefore it is a proper case where goods should be restored to the applicant for transhipment… … .,” Musene’s ruling read in part.

“I further invoke the provisions of S.33 of the Judicature Act and order that the goods restored to the Applicant be protected from further impounding or seizure by any other organ or institution in Uganda including the Uganda Wild Life Authority officials”.

Musene’s decision compelled URA to petition Court of Appeal. Among others, URA argued that the Ivory was an exhibit in a case that was ongoing. In a turn of events, on March 3, 2014, the court’s Justice Kenneth Kakuru reversed the lower court’s ruling.

“I am satisfied that there exists special circumstances for grant of stay of execution in this matter. The subject matter is a consignment of ivory said to have been impounded while in transit. It is clear, therefore, that if the said Ivory is released to the respondent in compliance with the High Court order that would render the appeal nugatory as the Ivory is likely to be moved outside the court’s jurisdiction,” Musene stated.

“It is also very important to consider that the same consignment is a subject of criminal proceedings before the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court where the Ivory is required as an exhibit.”

To-date, the Ivory is still in URA’s custody. The 832 pieces represent about 400 elephants killed for their tusks, according to Uganda Wildlife Authority officials. Kayumba, who reportedly was in Uganda whilst the matter was before Nakawa court, is said to have fled back to Rwanda thereafter.

Other than collecting revenue, URA is involved in protection of society including the environment and its components.