UPDF Officers Charged Over Illegal Ivory Trade (Kampala, Uganda)


Frederic Musisi, The Monitor

Date Published

Two UPDF officers and four civilians have been charged for illegal
possession of 12 pieces of elephant tusks weighing 19.015kgs, and
valued at Shs129.3m.

Cpl Collins Kamugisha of the Special Forces Command (SFC), an elite
unit of the UPDF and Maj Allan Rutagira, attached to Mbuya barracks,
appeared before Buganda Road Court Chief Magistrate James Ereemye.

The SFC spokesperson, Maj Chris Magezi, confirmed that Cpl Kamugisha
is attached to SFC.

“It is true he is our soldier and he was arrested by police and the
Wildlife Authority (UWA) in possession of those illegal items,” Maj
Magezi said.

The other four civilian suspects are Mr Simon Mbonye, 53, a miner; Mr
Able Bamonjobora, a State House driver; Mr George Otika, an accountant
at Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS); and Mr Alex Sande, 45, a

They were charged with unlawful possession of protected species,
accepting transfer of protected species, and conspiracy to commit a
felony and to being in possession of protected species.

Cpl Kamugisha and Maj Rutagira, through their lawyer, Anthony Waneta
applied for bail and presented two and three sureties, respectively.

Prosecution led by Resident State Attorney Jonathan Muwaganya, told
court that all the accused conspired to commit a crime. The other
suspects had no lawyers to represent them but applied for bail, which
was deferred, and were remanded.

Any person convicted of the offence is liable to a fine of not less
than Shs1m or imprisonment for not more than five years or both.

The law outlaws hunting and trading in wildlife or any other
activities against nature.

The suspects were arrested on March 24 by police, UWA officers and a
team from the Natural Resource Conservation Network (NRCN), a network
investigating and reporting wildlife crime in Uganda, at a top city
hotel after three months of trailing them.

Sources familiar with the matter indicated the suspects were busted
after a whistleblower, who had been trailing them, tipped-off the
officials. The arresting team tricked the suspects by disguising as
clients who wanted to buy the ivory.

The elephant tusks, insiders say, could be part of the one tonne of
ivory worth about Shs3.3 billion ($1m) that disappeared from UWA
stores in November 2014. The ivory had previously been confiscated
from traffickers at various points across the country. UWA had also
collected some of the ivory from elephants dying of old age.

UWA spokesperson Jossy Muhangi confirmed to Sunday Monitor that the
suspects had been charged. He, however, insisted the tusks they were
arrested with do not belong to UWA.

“We label each tusk, for example if from Queen Elizabeth national
park, we mark it as QE and a serial number. The labels these tusk the
suspects had did not belong to us,” said Mr Muhangi.

Following the disappearance of the ivory from UWA’s offices, President
Museveni ordered for an investigation into the matter, after it was
suspected that some wildlife officials could have been part of the

Both police and the Inspectorate of Government launched an
investigation into the matter, but there were clashes between the two
institutions over the course of the inquiry. Police eventually
withdrew from the investigation following a number of clashes on

UWA also commenced its own investigations and several staff have since
been suspended, according to sources, after they were implicated by

The IGG, Ms Irene Mulyagonja, is still investigating the matter, but
has since pursued charges against some suspects at the Anti-Corruption

The problem

The crime. According to UWA, the country loses about Shs1b in illegal
wildlife trade annually. Wildlife tracking is the fourth-largest
illegal business in the world, according to the European Commission.
Ivory trafficking is behind the poaching of elephants and the trade is
banned or restricted in 181 countries, according to the United
Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of
Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The plight of elephants. Every August 12 was designated as World
Elephant Day by the Wildlife Conservation Society to raise awareness
of the plight of elephants. Ivory trafficking and poaching kills
35,000 African elephants each year. Around 1,000 African elephants
were killed between 2010 and 2012.