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How a private firm is minting billions from Uganda’s rhinos

By Charles Etukuri

Added 26th December 2018 02:30 PM

RFU is the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) set up in 1997 to repopulate Uganda with both black and white rhinoceros breeds which are globally endangered and is currently headed by a South African national Angie Genade.

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RFU is the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) set up in 1997 to repopulate Uganda with both black and white rhinoceros breeds which are globally endangered and is currently headed by a South African national Angie Genade.

WILD LIFE

KAMPALA - A detailed investigation by Sunday Vision has revealed that Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) is making profits from rhinos imported by the Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) and yet the money is supposed to be collected by the Government of Uganda.

RFU is the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) set up in 1997 to repopulate Uganda with both black and white rhinoceros breeds which are globally endangered and is currently headed by a South African national Angie Genade.

The matter was first raised before the commission of inquiry investigating alleged mismanagement of US$ 38m World Bank loan and grant as well as sh1bn from the Government of Uganda, by UWA chaired by retired Supreme Court judge, George Kanyeihamba in 2011. The Commission was told that UWA recruited, trained and deployed staff at the ranch and still pays them though no returns are realized from the ranch.

When Sunday Vision visited the Rhino sanctuary, all the receipts being issued both for tracking the rhinos and other activities at the ranch were in RFU name. However officials from UWA who spoke to on condition of anonymity revealed that they had failed to account for the moneys collected.

Sunday Vision has learnt Ugandans are charged 30,000 as entry fee and while foreigners are charged $40.RFU also charges between $5000 to $10,000 for a rhino to be named and this amount of money is paid yearly. Each Rhino at the sanctuary has a sponsor. The RFU has also introduced other activities at the sanctuary which include bird watching in which one is charged $20 while Canoe riding $10, nature walk $10, bird watching among others popular with tourists. Records at the sanctuary also revealed that they received over 50 visitors per week.

A senior Board Member privy to the operations of RFU revealed that some senior Government officials in UWA and Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities could be aware about this anomaly but had kept it under carpet. Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Tourism proved futile.

The board member revealed that the RFU raises billions of shillings through park entry fees, naming of baby rhinos at the sanctuary which is a fundraising initiative aimed at helping raise annual income. Other funds have been secured through donations from well-wishers abroad.

The endangered rhinoceros species were imported in Uganda in several batches from South Africa, the US and Kenya, from around 2005. It was a pilot project to restock the herds that had been extinct. The rhinos were put on Zziwa Ranch, a 70sq. km expanse which later became Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary. The sanctuary was identified for safe breeding, after which the rhinos would be released back into national parks.

The sanctuary, initially a ranch, is owned by Captain Roy. Sunday Vision has established through interviews and documents that, Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) was formed as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) in 1997 by one Yvonne who was instrumental in convincing Capt. Roy to reintroduce Rhinos into Uganda after they had been wiped out by poachers.

A management team was then appointed later that year to oversee and guide the implementation and management of the RFU to achieve its aim of reintroducing Rhinoceros, a highly endangered species across the globe, back into the National Parks of Uganda through a breeding and release program.

Out of this emerged the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which Captain Roy granted 7000 hectares (16,000 Acres). A land usage license was agreed on between RFU and Captain Roy, giving RFU sole usage rights for a period of thirty (renewable) years. The first six rhinos were introduced to this habitat during 2005/2006.

The Rhinos which have now grown to 24 have since been left on the ranch which has grown into a full-fledged tourist destination with the rhinos attracting foreign visitors.

In an interview with Sunday Vision, Bonnie Wendy who is a daughter to Captain Roy said in 2002, they were approached by Yvonne who introduced to the family the idea of reintroducing Rhinos to Uganda and have them housed at the ranch.  “She persuaded by father to become a conservationist  and then he had to buy  another ranch in Kiryana in order to relocate over 7000 animals from the current home of Rhinos at his own cost,” Wendy said.

Captain Roy, Subsequently built a perimeter fence at Nakitooma where the current Rhinos are being kept and also organized an international fundraising for an electric fence and also transferred the initial 4 Rhinos from Kenya and another 2 from the United States of America. Capt. Roy and his family became part and parcel of the initial board and recruited the previous 4 Executive Directors of RFU and was key in its decision making and Rhino management. He also drilled boreholes, put in place water dips and also constructed all the houses at the sanctuary and also constructed a community primary school.

 ngie enadeAngie Genade
 

Board disbanded

Last month, Sunday Vision published a story after a series of interviews indicating that the fate of over 24 Rhinos at the Zziwa Rhino ranch sanctuary in Nakitooma village in Nakasongola district appears to hang in balance following a rift between Captain Charles Joy Roy the owner of the ranch and RFU.

Sunday Vision has learnt that because of the conflict between the two, Angie had in May last year controversially announced a new board of directors throwing out Capt. Roy and a staff of Zziwa ranch while several other Ugandans appointed on RFU Board had decided to quit  under unclear circumstances.

Some of those who have since quit include Lt. Gen Ivan Koureta, while source revealed Senior Commissioner of Police Abram Sagal had been asked to resign from the board. The fate of other local Ugandan Board members remained unknown because they didn’t want to comment when Sunday Vision contacted them.

Sunday Vision has learnt that no ex officio members from the Ministry of Tourism or UWA attended the AGM in which the board changes were effected. A senior board member revealed that two of the board members recently appointed had taken over the daily management of the sanctuary and this was questioned by Koreta and Sagal.

In an interview with Saturday Vision, Koreta admitted he had quit the board citing personal reasons and lack of time. Sagal declined to comment over the matter but noted that he had also received reports that he had been replaced. While Roy confirmed he had been forced out of the board by the Executive Director and a team of his cronies.

When Sunday Vision Contacted Angie, she briefly replied to some of the questions put to her on phone but insisted that we also sent her an email. Three weeks after we sent an email she declined to answer the specific questions we had raised and said the board had taken them and would respond.

In the earlier phone call conversation, Angie claimed the new board members had been appointed during an AGM. However board sources revealed that no communication of the meeting to replace board members was served to them

 
Workers living under tension

Sunday Vision interviewed several workers who feed and help the UWA staff guard the animals and they revealed that the new board members had put them on one year probation despite the fact that most of them had spent most of their youthful years guarding the Rhinos. The workers also revealed that they had been subjected to a series of humiliating lie detector interviews and that some of them had been threatened with sacking.

“They want to dismiss us. There is tension everywhere. Some of us have worked for several years and known this animals personally. They know our smell and easily bond with us,” one of the staffers who didn’t want to be revealed said.

A board member told Sunday Vision that majority of the locals who work as guides in the ranch relied on this jobs for their survival. “When there is tension they get tempted and it would not be so long for us to hear a rhino has been killed in that same ranch. The morale of the boys is so low they even don’t know what the future holds,” the source revealed.

Sources privy to the happening at the ranch also revealed presence of strange drones hovering over the sky.

Impasse over evictions

Captain Roy’s lawyers from Omongole and Company Advocates told Sunday Vision that besides throwing Capt. Roy off the board, he had been denied access to the ranch that the RFU is using police who are illegally deployed and that even though they have brought the matter to the attention of the director of operation in the Uganda Police force, no action has been taken.

In April 2018, the family through a letter reference OR/CV/17/534 petitioned Asuman Mugenyi to intervene after the Officer in Charge of Nakitooma Police post continuously blocked them from accessing their property. However there was no response from police even when the latter was received.

On May 21st 2018, Captain Roy’s family petitioned the newly appointed Executive Director of UWA Sam Mwandha indicating that RFU was using its warders to block them from inspecting their own property at the ranch. “The purpose of this letter is to request you to exclude UWA or any rangers from conflict in the matter between Amuka Lodge and Zziwa Rangers and our clients should have free access to their home and other properties in the ranch,” the lawyers indicated.

On May 24th 2018, Mwandha wrote to Angie informing her she had received a complaint from Capt. Roy of the unnecessary use of UWA rangers based at the sanctuary to restrict his access to the property. “I would like to let you know that the UWA rangers at the sanctuary are strictly deployed to ensure the security of rhinos on the sanctuary and should not in any way be involved in conflicts between Zziwa Ranchers and Rhino Fund.

I urge both parties to find ways of amicably settling their conflicts without necessarily involving UWA rangers based at the sanctuary,” Mwanda said. He directed the Deputy Director in charge of Field Operations to let the staff based at the sanctuary know about this position.

Documents seen by Saturday Vision indicate that in 2010, Captain Roy gave a concession agreement to D&D International a company owned by Angela’s late husband to operate a lodge. The lawyers insist that D&D never paid any coin to them and proceeded to create another company Amuka Limited to run the activities of the lodge.

“The issues of non-payment forced Capt. Roy to terminate the concession with RFU and D&D in November 2017 and Angela refused the termination and run to arbitration as provided for by the agreement,” Omongole told Sunday Vision.

She also placed a caveat on the entire stretch of land.

Capt. Roy’s lawyers in a letter dated August 29th 2018 petitioned the Chairperson of the NGO Board indicating that Angie was using her NGO’s work permit to actually do business in Uganda.

Sunday Vision has also learnt that Angie is in the process of winding up Amuka lodges. In a brief interview she noted that Amuka lodges ltd was introduced into the ranch because D&G was a company that belonged to her late husband and she was not involved in the day today running of it. “It was only proper that I bring in a company that I knew and that was why Amuka lodges was formed,” she said.

What next

Captain Roy’s family insists that Angie is trying to drum up public support and sympathy in order to grab the land. “They are portraying my client as somebody who is no longer interested in the Rhinos being on the ranch and that he wants them out and yet that is not what he intends to. He volunteered his land. He has passion for conservation. Capt. Roy wants the animals to remain at the ranch. He has already developed a management plan and obtained a license from UWA to be able to bring into the country other additional rare species of animals that are extinct here. But all this cannot be effected because he has cannot access his land,” the lawyers said.

Saturday Vision is also in possession of a letter written by the former Executive Director of UWA Andrew Seguya in which UWA appreciated his spirit of conservation.  In the letter dated March 2018, UWA granted Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary the right to offer protection of rescued pangolins which had been brought to the farm.

He also noted that the plan to reintroduce the endangered species at the sanctuary was still on and UWA had passed a budget to help facilitate this.

 

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