AWF Training Program Empowers Prosecutors, Boosts Wildlife Crime Convictions in Uganda

Africa’s diverse wildlife is under siege from poaching and trafficking, posing a severe threat to the continent’s ecological heritage. The World Wildlife Crime Report 2024 highlights a disturbing trend: between 2015 and 2021, items from elephants, large carnivores, and pangolins were among the top five most confiscated species groups in Africa.

Over the years, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has implemented a comprehensive training program for prosecutors, judges, magistrates, and law enforcement officers to combat wildlife crimes. One program beneficiary is Charles Okeny, a determined Ugandan prosecutor instrumental in securing convictions and protecting Africa’s wildlife.

Stationed at the Lake Mburo Conservation Area with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Okeny’s path has been shaped by intensive training, mentorship, and practical experience. 

Between 2018 and 2019, he took part in a year-long wildlife crime prosecution training and mentorship program supported by AWF, along with peers from Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. This training covered various aspects of wildlife law enforcement, investigation and prosecution and prepared Okeny and his colleagues to build strong cases, gather compelling evidence, and present their arguments convincingly in court.

Uganda CWT Training Beneficiary - Charles Okeny,

Uganda CWT Training Beneficiary - Charles Okeny, 

Reflecting on the program, Okeny states, “The training was comprehensive and intense, focusing on various aspects of wildlife law enforcement, investigation and prosecution. We delved into the legal frameworks of our respective countries, honed our case-building processes, and mastered evidence collection and courtroom presentation.”

The training program has improved the prosecution success rates of wildlife crimes. Before the program’s implementation, the conviction rates were hampered by inadequate evidence and procedural mistakes. However, post-training, there has been a substantial increase in conviction rates, now reaching approximately 80%.

Okeny, leveraging the skills and knowledge gained from the program, manages an impressive caseload of about 60 cases per month within the Lake Mburo Conservation Area.

A pivotal moment in Okeny's career arrived in 2019 with the successful prosecution of five poachers responsible for killing a giraffe. 
"Before the training," Okeny reflects, "the case's complexity and the need for solid evidence would have presented significant challenges." 
Highlighting the program's impact, he continues, "However, our enhanced capabilities, honed through the training, allowed us to secure compelling evidence, collaborate effectively with law enforcement, and build a convincing case for the court." 

This resulted in a landmark decision: five-year prison sentences for the poachers, sending a strong message against such illegal activities.
Okeny's initiatives are strengthened by partnerships with a stakeholder network, all of whom receive training in proper evidence management to ensure admissibility in court. This holistic strategy, spearheaded by AWF, signifies a significant shift in the fight against poaching and wildlife crimes.

As an active member of the Uganda Association of Prosecutors, Okeny actively shares his expertise with fellow prosecutors and stakeholders, emphasizing the critical importance of wildlife resource protection. 

"Ultimately, my goal," Okeny asserts, "is to witness a substantial decrease in poaching and wildlife crimes. Robust legal frameworks and enforcement measures are crucial to safeguard our invaluable wildlife."

Uganda's commitment to this cause is further underscored by the creation of a specialized environmental and wildlife crime division within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) and the dedicated Standards and Utilities Court that deals exclusively with wildlife crimes. 

Didi Wamukoya, AWF’s Director of Counter Wildlife Trafficking, sheds light on the Wildlife Judicial and Prosecutorial Assistance Training Program. This long-standing initiative addresses legal and procedural deficiencies that impede wildlife crime investigations and prosecutions.

Wamukoya elaborates, “The training program, comprising 22 modules, aims to expand and deepen the knowledge and skills of investigators and prosecutors. It includes workshops, hands-on activities, long-term mentorships, and case studies, led by experts from AWF, UWA, and Uganda’s ODPP.”
AWF’s initiative, Wildlife Judicial and Prosecutorial Assistance Training Series, has made significant strides, extending its reach to 18 African countries and imparting crucial knowledge to 5,461 officials, including 621 from prosecutorial bodies. 

“The program has significantly enhanced wildlife crime prosecution success rates across the region, elevating the overall conviction rate from 56% in January 2016 to 78% in December 2023,” Wamukoya concludes.