Kampala – On 1st October this year, China marked its National Independence Day. Over the past decade, China has emerged to be a prominent player in Uganda’s economy through funding major infrastructural projects in Uganda such as Roads, Bridges, Hydropower dams and Industrial Parks.
World life conservationists argue that the expansion of Chinese investments in Africa, as part of its “Going Out” Policy has rapidly increased and is creating more new channels and opportunities for illegal wildlife trade.
Some sections of Ugandans are viewing it as a move by another Colonialist state in need of looting our resources without any significant and sustainable benefits to the country, which needs to be addressed.
Ivory smuggling spoils China’s image abroad, especially in Africa where Chinese demand for elephant tusks and rhino horns has driven the two species closer to devastation. China’s consumption of ivory, used for traditional Chinese medicine as well as decoration, complicates its already complex alliances in Africa.
‘’The increased Chinese investment in Uganda has created an opportunity for many Chinese wildlife traffickers to infiltrate Uganda under the pretext of investment and are quietly venturing into the lucrative business. Uganda has registered several incidents of illicit wildlife trafficking involving the Chinese, for instance, in March 2020, seven (07) Chinese nationals were arrested in Kireka, Kampala in possession of protected wildlife products (pangolin scales, elephant penises and tortoises). In 2017, President Yoweri Museveni ordered an investigation into possible collusion between two Chinese Diplomats and UWA officials in the trafficking of Ivory from DRC, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, using Uganda as a transit point. This was however refuted by the China Embassy ‘’, revealed a conservationist on condition of anonymity.
Important to note, China has been cited as a top destination for wildlife products in the World. Products of endangered species like Pangolins, Elephants and Rhinos are on a higher demand as they are used as ingredients in the manufacture of Chinese Traditional Medicines, making ornaments and trophies and some consumed as a delicacy.
The rising demand for key wildlife species and products in China has pushed poaching rates to unsustainable levels, which threatens the existence of endangered species.
Pangolins remain the most trafficked mammals in the World to Asian markets. It should be noted that the outbreak of zoonotic diseases such as Ebola and now COVID-19 Pandemic have stoutly been linked to unsafe human handling and interference with wildlife.
Despite several initiatives by governments of Uganda and China to tackle the illicit wildlife threat, there are still gaps in wildlife Protection that make trafficking and illegal trade a low-risk business and highly lucrative.
‘’These include, the ease of movement of poachers, middlemen and international wildlife traffickers across international market destinations with wildlife products and last but not least the expansion of developments around key wildlife habitats. While we appreciate the benefits associated with economic development projects, we must take into consideration the adverse effect on wildlife species and habitats resulting from development. Let us find means to co-exist alongside wildlife. China needs to commit to conservation of Uganda’s wildlife for business to go on in a sustainable manner and for stronger China-Uganda relations’’, added a conservationist.
Wildlife activists argue that most of the China-funded Projects across the country are not economically viable. They are built at inflated costs leaving Ugandans with a huge debt burden to the Beijing Government.
‘’A case in point is the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, which cost a whopping $476 million. This road is estimated to be costing Uganda $9.2 million per kilometer over and above the average $2million per kilometer road. This can literally be termed as “The evil good”.
Additionally, corruption related cases have also been cited in most of the Chinese projects. For instance, recently the President of Uganda blacklisted two Chinese Companies (China Communications Construction Company LTD (CCCC) and China Railway 17th Bureau Group Company) over interference with the procurement process of the Kampala-Jinja Expressway.
‘’On behalf of concerned Ugandans, I call upon the Chinese Government to ensure that its nationals in Uganda desist from involvement in illegal wildlife trade. There is a strong need to reduce demand and consumption of endangered wildlife species products. I believe this would help to address the problem. If China wants to take up a mantle of global leadership in biodiversity, there is a need to commit wholesomely to a reduction in demand for threatened wildlife. Half-hearted measures have only worsened the problem’’, revealed an activist.
A report, “Uganda Wildlife Trafficking Assessment,” produced in 2018 by TRAFFIC as part of the USAID-funded Wildlife TRAPS Project, provides a comprehensive look at Uganda’s illegal and legal wildlife trade, poaching trends, and wildlife trafficking routes over the last 10–15 years.
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Uganda is home to a spectacularly diverse array of wildlife, housing more than half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, 50% of Africa’s bird species, almost 40% of Africa’s mammal species, and 19% of Africa’s amphibian species.
The USAID-funded Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been at the forefront of wildlife conservation, however, wildlife conservationists demand for more interventions to secure the future of Africa Wildlife.