Good Day! At 1pm yesterday, a lawyer colleague and friend with whom I share a WhatsApp group sent a message to say they were stuck somewhere in Kabong district, Karamoja. A group of 50 domestic tourists had gone mountain climbing and later crossed to Kidepo Valley National Park.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) availed them a bus which at 8pm on Sunday got stuck thanks to torrential rains that are pounding Karamoja. They had spent Sunday night in the wild, surrounded by water only, and another night (Monday). They could easily spend another night (Tuesday) stuck in there.
UWA sent a little grader which also got stuck. By yesterday the bus had sunk even deeper as the rains got heavier and yet by 3pm there appeared no rescue efforts. The tourists complained of empty promises being made since Sunday night.
The friend suggested that I share the pictures on social media and get a journalist to call the relevant government authorities to mount pressure by way of asking what they are doing. People usually take to this but I suspect that I have spent substantial time in the media arena sufficient to appreciate when to pull off such moves and when not to. Sometimes it is just not necessary. It is better to work behind the scenes sometimes, after all, what you need is a solution to a problem.
I asked her and her team to remain calm then started to work the lines. First person I contacted was AIGP Asan Kasingye, an incredibly decent senior officer who was at a burial but still gave me time, looked for phone numbers of the RPC Kidepo and DPC Moroto (whose numbers were off—wink! Wink!). Then I contacted the Executive Director of UWA who didn’t pick my calls but eventually picked the call of my friend and said he was going to, “see what to do.”
I also texted senior Advocate Hussein Kashilingi who is always helpful in such circumstances who also contacted the UWA E.D.
Next I texted Mr. Moses Byaruhanga, the President’s Senior Advisor who immediately got back and called the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Sabiti Muzeeyi and requested for his intervention. To his credit, and I must really salute the Deputy IGP, the General immediately called the Director Fire and Rescue Services of police who called my friend. Minutes later the General himself called the lady lawyer and asked her to remain calm and deliver the same message to her team, assuring them they would do everything possible to ensure they are out of potential danger. Sabiti also promised to get back to the lady after engaging the military for a joint rescue effort. There was relief at the camp.
Hearing from the Deputy IGP himself was the best news.
Meanwhile in trying the different government offices I called, several times, the Minister of Tourism who didn’t pick and read but didn’t reply my WhatsApp messages, while three other ministers’ phone calls went unanswered.
I am grateful therefore, that by 7pm, the Uganda Police Force and UWA had dispatched a team to ensure the 50 tourists are safe and have alternative means of transport back to Kampala just in case there was a challenge again. The possibility of spending the third night in the middle of nowhere in Karamoja, with 50 people who possibly have all sorts of medical conditions, in the wild, submerged by water and at risk of attacks from cattle rustlers, was now over.
It was shameful that these tourists had to spend two nights in the wild and were about to do a third night. I am sure that if the bus had white tourists, especially Americans and Britons, the response time would have been faster. We would have had helicopters there by Sunday night, latest Monday morning and their ambassadors would be making frantic calls to the highest offices.
Anyway, the Police leadership handled this matter so professionally and I salute the Deputy IGP for the same; he works in silence but is very efficient and humble. Distinguished Officers like him who go the extra mile re-affirm our faith in humanity and public service.
I also thank Mr. Moses Byaruhanga as well as Mr. Kashilingi who made calls to the police and UWA leadership that saved the day in no time immediately I brought the matter to their attention. I only hope that other Ugandans who may not have access to these offices and people who know people who know people who can fix things, caught up in a similar situation, can always trust the state to come to their rescue soonest most.
On another day we can discuss promoting our tourism sector by addressing the challenge of access to our treasured tourism sites. Good day!
This write up first appeared on Ivan Okuda’s facebook wall on Wednesday, June 5 2019
Okuda is a Special Projects and Investigations Writer at Monitor Publications Limited