Uganda is one of the 26 countries with the highest levels of trafficking in wildlife, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 END Wildlife Trafficking Report. The situation not only undermines the county’s economic development, it fuels corruption, undermines rule of law, but also threatens global security, argues the US Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac.
Fortunately, perhaps, different stakeholders, with support from the US embassy in Kampala are pooling resources to try turn around Uganda’s negative reputation with the help of modern Information Communication Technology (ICT).
Last weekend, the US Embassy in Uganda partnered with the Uganda Wildlife Conservation and Education Center (UWEC) to host Zoohackathon 2019 in Entebbe.
Zoohackathon is a computer coding event that brings together developers, designers, project managers, and subject matter experts to create applications, systems, and tools to help reduce demand for trafficked wildlife products and disrupt wildlife trafficking value chains.
This year’s Zoohackathon was the fourth year of the global event and the second year in a row that UWEC has hosted Zoohackathon in Entebbe. This year, 15 other cities around the world organized Zoohackathon events. Teams of coders competed against one another to develop a prototype solution that responds to one of the provided global and local wildlife trafficking problem statements.
Uganda’s 2019 Zoohackathon was won by Eden, a team of individual registrants. According to a statement by the US Embassy, Eden developed a Rhino personality matching game to generate knowledge about and interest in rhino conservation, as well as advertise the opportunity to donate toward rhino conservation efforts.
This team and prototype will now go on to the global competition along with the winners of the other Zoohackathon events. The global competition will be held in the coming weeks, and the overall winner will be announced in January 2020.
U.S. Envoy Malac, who officiated at the event held at UWEC in Entebbe, noted that Uganda’s participation in the global Zoohackathon challenge helped to create awareness among stakeholders about the problem surrounding trafficking in wildlife but also helps the country address the challenge to the Tourism sector, Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner.
She said: “Uganda is an important destination in the global, black market trade of illicit products earning it a designation as a “focus country” in the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 END Wildlife.”
She added: “Wildlife trafficking is an international conservation crisis. It is also a multi-billion dollar, black-market criminal enterprise that threatens global security, undermines the rule of law, fuels corruption, and hampers economic development.….We support events like this because we share the common goal of conserving Uganda’s biodiversity, promoting sustainable development, and enhancing security by countering the illegal wildlife trade.”
In September this year the U.S treasury department, slapped Uganda’s former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Gen. Kale Kayihura over claims that he had engaged in human rights abuses, corruption and also perpetrated the trade in illicit goods, including drugs, gold, and wildlife, out of Uganda.
The involvement of Uganda’s security personnel in wildlife trafficking however makes the fight against the illicit trade the more difficult because of the power they wield.
Besides its support to fighting trafficking in wildlife, the US mission supports other initiatives aimed at promoting the tourism sector. These include the 2017 US$ 100,000 grant to help set up the Uganda Biodiversity Fund.