Woke to the sound of birds (and possibly a baboon!) this morning, at the Uganda Wildlife Authority hostel on the Mweya peninsula in Queen Elizabeth National Park. A fantastically beautiful place tho the accom is very basic: only 1 tap works, the curtains don’t close and there are no hangers on the rail. But boy was the bed comfy!
An 8 hr journey from Kampala – and I’d slept for 3 hours – but still slept like a log.
Just killing time in an internet café in Kasese – it’s always very hot here – while we try and get in contact with the company who are transporting our converted shipping container to Kahendero on Lake George. This is the site for our latest ‘Marine Ranger Station’ and last week Patrick was on site overseeing a team of 25 ex-poachers cut back 1200 square metres of Hippo Grass and Papyrus (much of it 2 metres high) along the Lake edge. It’s very tough work, all done by hand, but the men were disappointed the work came to an end. There’s not much round here apart from fishing and cattle grazing (often within in the Park and therefore illegal too). The cement company Hima is a big (and controversial) local employer.
[PHOTO: a large Catfish caught while uprooting the Papyrus was divided between the labourers and taken home for dinner]
The villagers at Kahendero are naturally suspicious – many of them are fishing illegally (using undersize nets, fishing outside designated areas etc) – as we roll up with UWA rangers. This is essentially a subsistence community but because of their location on the Park edge, they receive 20% of Park revenues to spend on business investment, income generation and so on. Each community decides where the money is spent and this is managed by UWA who also spend time ‘sensitising’ the community on conservation issues.
People have to live and we recognise many depend on the land for grazing and the Lake for fishing but it has to be done sustainably and currently it’s not. By restricting certain activities we are actually giving them more control over their futures.
[PHOTO: we’d had a visitor overnight!]
So where is the container? And what is it for?
Converted shipping containers are regularly used for storage e.g. VSO has one in their compound. We’ve had windows and a door fitted to ours to make a secure storage unit for the boat. This – along with a week long life-saving and boat handling training programme – equips UWA to intercept and arrest poachers on the Lake and rescue fishermen (many of whom can’t swim). Kahendero is UCF’s 5th such set-up but is strategically placed on the north of Lake George, an area of high illegal activity, so possibly the most sensitive.
About the riots: it all kicked off yesterday in town. First msg I got when mobile network back on was from VSO Emergency number: “Riots in Kampala. Please avoid town.” The Kabaka (King) of the Baganda tribe was advised by the government not to visit a certain area for fear of starting a fight. Govt was damned if it did interfere, damned if it didn’t – so I understand. There were demos in town and the army was called in after a policemen was killed. Several people have been injured, two (?) killed. It’s in a specific area of town (other side of the city, far from Namuwongo) in response to a particular issue so nothing to get unduly worried about.