The mess at Uganda Wildlife Authority seems to have taken a more personal twist lately, with volleys in the press between Presidential Media Advisor John Nagenda and Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry, General Kahinda Otafiire.
In another article a month ago, Otafiire threatened Nagenda saying “Nagenda cannot insult us like that. It is fine to insult me. I will hit back at him at a given time somewhere else.”
This personal battle runs the risk of deflecting attention from what is still going on within Uganda Wildlife Authority. Staffers at headquarters never know from day-to-day if they will keep their jobs, and are working in an atmosphere of mistrust, where they believe people are looking through their things at night, and that their communications are being monitored.
Much of the fear comes from the fact that the dismissals can appear capricious, as the true motivations behind them are unclear. There was a recent audit of the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign which purportedly unearthed corruption and misuse of funds. I have not seen the report, but I have heard from people I trust within UWA that the money raised by the campaign is all accounted for, and that the variety of bank accounts is the result of PayPal not being able to deposit funds into a Ugandan account.
I have also done some research into the costs of developing a commercial website, and the $65,000 is in line with what should be expected for an international-standard website with the complexity of the Friend-a-Gorilla site with e-commerce and social networking. Sure, websites can be done cheaper, but the goal of the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign was to put Uganda on the world scene, and you don’t want to do that with a cheesy, $1,000 website.
Granted, the campaign has not been as successful as was hoped, but that does not mean that the process was corrupt. Also, what many people don’t remember is that this campaign was launched right after the Kampala riots in fall of 2009. There were a few weeks where every piece of news about Uganda in the international press was about the riots. Then along came the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign and suddenly the world’s focus on Uganda shifted to a positive story. How much would Uganda have had to pay for a PR campaign to turn around its international image in such a short period of time?
I am very concerned about the future of the parks in Uganda. The actions that are being taken by the new UWA board are significant, and they are being done at a speed that does not allow for proper examination of each step. I find it interesting that Nagenda is taking such an active role and can only hope it is a sign that the top leadership in the country also has concerns about how things are being handled at UWA.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala