To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, GERALD TENYWA brings you the contribution Moses Mapesa to Uganda’s wildlife and conservation
A prophet is never respected in his own home, so the saying goes. This is true of Moses Mapesa, 46, who has spent half his life fighting the cause of wild animals. For this, Mapesa has received more accolades globally from organisations such as the World Conservation Union than from his motherland. Four years ago, he was honoured by the World Conservation Union for his leadership skills. When most of the national parks were being established across Africa, including in Uganda, more than 50 years ago, the local people did not see the value and so they never consented.
The colonial governments thus resorted to coercive methods to ensure nature conservation. But over the years, the walls of coercion around these protected areas are crumbling as the struggle to settle historical injustices sweeps across the continent. In addition, heavily populated areas, such as the districts making up the Mt. Elgon region, have encroached on the park reserves in search of land for cultivation. The growing population, increasing scarcity of resources and poverty are all working together to increase pressure and conflicts.
This is part of the hostility Mapesa braved as he rose through the ranks at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Mapesa worked as the director for field operations, which used to act like a fire brigade to resolve conflicts around the protected areas. He later became the executive director of UWA within the last decade. “Mapesa’s leadership has developed the authority into one of the most professional protection agencies in the world,” stated IUCN in the citation of the award that was bestowed upon Mapesa in 2008. He has also been actively involved in conservation projects in many African countries and is a founding member of Leadership Conservation Africa Forum.
Securing national parks
In the early 1990s, President Yoweri Museveni changed the conservation status of Mt. Elgon from a forest reserve to a national park. This was in a bid to protect the mountain slopes from the local people who were cutting down trees. This is one of the areas where Mapesa came face- to- face with the grassroots challenges that were later to shape his career.
Mapesa says during campaigns, politicians promise to free protected areas for locals in exchange for votes and protecting these areas becomes a big challenge for environmental institutions. Apart from organising endless meetings with the Bagisu on the Mt. Elgon slopes, Mapesa also masterminded the end of the invasion of Queen Elizabeth National Park by Basongora herdsmen. Basongora herdsmen, who were returning from the DR Congo, camped in the northern parts of Queen Elizabeth four years ago.
They claimed the park was historically their grazing ground and there was no other place they could call home apart from the park. Mapesa initiated discussions and an inter-ministerial committee was formed to secure land and resettle Basongora outside the park.
Mapesa oversaw the creation of networks between UWA and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces to ensure the organisation protected wildlife during armed conflicts that affected the northern parts of Murchison Falls National Park and Rwenzori mountains.
Cross-border networks to manage wildlife with neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and the DR Congo were created. Another network to help manage migratory animals between Uganda and South Sudan is also in the pipeline. The UWA, which was formed in 1996 after the merger of Uganda National Parks and the Game Department, is one of the biggest and strongest conservation bodies in Uganda’s post-colonial era.
It is also one of the strongest conservation institutions across sub-Saharan Africa. This is one of the reasons UWA acts as a springboard for conservation in Uganda and the neighbouring countries.
Mapesa leaves UWA
Mapesa’s illustrious career at UWA ended prematurely in mid-July 2010, when Kahinda Otafiire, then trade and tourism minister, relieved him of his duties citing irregularities in the management at UWA. Investigations were carried out the outcome of the report has been challenged in different circles including the current tourism minister, Ephraim Kamuntu.
Star still shinning
From 2010 to 2011, Mapesa was engaged in consultancy work and has also continued networking with different conservation bodies. This year, Mapesa was appointed the regional vice-chair for the IUCN Commission on Protected Areas (World Commission on Protected Areas) for Eastern and Southern Africa. He has been tasked with ensuring that the network of conservation experts is functional in the region.