By Aggrey Nshekanabo
The ‘poachers’ killed in Queen Elizabeth National Park is what is on my mind. I will explain, I know very well, one of the dead ‘poachers’ Mbyemiire (Mbyemeire). Let’s begin with his name. It means; “I have endured” Mbyemiire’s mother is callled Aliyinza (God will enable). As I grew up, Aliyinza’s family was the poorest of the poor in Kichwamba, Nyabubaare II.
If they were lucky, they ate one meal a day. They cooked from outside. They had no kitchen. They were orphaned. By the time I was born in the late 70’s they did not have a father. Their father, died in a hunt; he was killed by a buffalo. It took several days by other hunters to recover his body. He was buried at night; hurriedly and very quickly. The body was already in a decomposing state but also to escape the park authorities. And now Mbyemiire has died in the park, just like his father. At least his father was killed by a buffalo and they were able to bury whatever was left of the body. Not Mbyemiire. He has not been buried by his people because a ranger’s bullet was buried in his head or heart. Mbyemiire’s children have not buried their father.
Mbyemire was the second last born. His elder brother, Alibanda, after the death of his father, abandoned the home. He told Aliyinza that he has gone to Kampala to look for work. That was in the mid 80’s. He has never returned and that mentally broke Aliyinza. If Aliyinza saw anyone dressed well coming from down Kichwamba, she would ask you; “Are you from Kampala? Have you at least spotted Alibanda anywhere?” Their home lay astride, the main village path. In between Alibanda and Mbyemiire were several sisters. I am not sure, anyone of those girls ever entered the classroom. And if Mbyemiire ever went to school, he may never have gone beyond P.3.
If Mbyemiire ever put on shoes, they were the car tire (tyre) type known as ‘rugabire’. I had never seen Mbyemiire put on shoes. He rarely put on long trousers. He did not have them. I know Mbyemiire’s children, the eldest girl got pregnant in P.4. She was 17 years. Mbyemiire may have been 55 years. So, by Ugandan life expectancy, he was an oldman. He was my maternal uncles’ and aunts’ playmates. He was slightly older than me.
Mbyemiire had a temper, a kind of growl around him. I do not remember Mbyemiire happy. He walked with speed. In fact, he half-ran most of the time, his feet soles never easily touching the ground. Mbyemiire toiled for his family. He worked sooooo hard, in fact, extremely hard.
There is something the world needs to know about communities around game parks. They are the majority poor. I know this. I do not know any community around any park or game reserve that is in a better state. I grew up in Kichwamba, Nyabubaare II, Kyenzaza and Kyambura (all around the park and game reserve) in present day Rubirizi District in what was formerly Bunyaruguru County. I know the lifestyle of the people. They were never poachers. They were animal protein food gatherers from Obwera (which today, you call Queen Elizabeth National Park). They hunted for bush-bucks (Engabi) from Kyangambi area or water-bucks (ensama) from Kyansama. They hunted for Bufallos (embogo) from Kyambogo, they once in a while got hippos commonly known as “Kinywani kya bwita” the friend of millet from around Lake Kibwana/Kibona. And the whole village feasted on the hippo for weeks. And the aroma (ebisyoro) would engulf the whole village. Once in a while, they harvested some Kobs; very tasty lean meat. The bufallo is not their preferred meat. You can only eat bufallo meat as a last resort. As they set their snares, they never intended to get buffalo. In fact, bufallo meat is tough. They prefer Kob, the buladina/engiri (wat-hog) and of course; the famous hippo. The hunting grounds were areas of Kasenyi, Katunguru, Kisenyi and Kazinga, Kyenzaza, Kineera, Kararo and Kibwera. They were never your modern poachers. But the most poor were the ones who indulged in hunting, same today.
I know Uganda Wildlife Authority tries to share revenue with districts surrounding the parks. That revenue never reaches the Mbyemiire’s of this world. It is used to build district offices, prisons and renovate schools that Mbyemiire’s children will never go to. So, that park is nothing to them if they can no longer access some little game meat or any meat. Mbyemiires of this world cannot afford a kilogramme of meat that costs 3 dollars/2 pounds or rather 10,000/-. Mbyemiires of this world are not trophy hunters. They are not poachers! Mbyemiires of this world are endangered species! They are the poor of the world. They use spears and snares to catch a hippo or buffalo, the two most dangerous animals in the wild. They are not interested in elephants’ tusks. All they want is some little animal protein so that they may swallow some millet bread.
In fact, for that park to make sense to communities around it, the authorities must as a matter of urgency, every pasika (Easter) and Nweri (Christmas) season, harvest some game and share it with communities. The Mbyemiires of this world will protect the park more than the rangers and the authorities that you share the revenue from the park with.
Uganda Wildlife Authority should buy more bullets to bury in the hearts of many Mbyemiires if you are not ready to share some of the meat with them. They do not want your money! They don’t need it in the form that it is in. May be UWA needs to partner with communities and use that money to establish income generating activities for the Mbyemiires of this world from which they can get some money to buy themselves some meat to swallow the millet bread. We don’t want to share revenue with you. You can as well keep it to yourselves. It does not make sense to us and never will. Share with us some meat, game meat. I know the animal population of the hippos in that park and some kobs. One hippo for Kichwamba, another for Kigabiro, Another for Kyambura, Another for Rumuri and another for Katerera for Christmas is no such a big deal once a year! Conflict sorted. There is always another way surely! Otherwise, you will continue burying bullets in the hearts of my maternal uncles like Mbyemiire if they remain the poorest and remain deprived of the little game meat. You are not “conserving” for their generation or their children’s children. They conserved this while they lived off it and now we took it away from them so we live off it. Let them live off it too! Give them some little meat.
Aggrey is a Tourism Conservation Enthusiast who lives off tourism. He is associated with Kyambura Safaris and Mbarara Tourism Information Center.