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Kidnap in the park

Tourists take vantage positions to view a lion hiding in the grasslands of Queen Elizabeth National Park on Feb.06, 2019. The park is very popular with visitors from around the world. INDEPENDENT/RONALD MUSOKE

American tourist rescued; experts call for Crisis Management Unit

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | The kidnap of an American tourist and a guide in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in early April spread jitters across Uganda’s tourism industry.

Kimberley Sue Endecott, was one of three guests on an evening game drive on April 02 when she and the guide, Jean Paul Mirenge, who works for Wild Frontiers Uganda, a local tour company, were both ambushed and abducted by four armed men.

The gang left the other two tourists; an elderly couple, and made off with Endecott and Mirenge. The kidnappers later used one of the abductees’ phone to demand a ransom of US$500,000 (about Shs 1.8 billion).

Fortunately, Endecott and Mirenge’s ordeal ended on April 07 when the two were found alive inside the Democratic Republic of Congo thanks to a joint security operation that included; the Uganda People’s Defence Force, police, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Joint Intelligence Task Force.

Lilly Ajarova, the new executive director of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) told The Independent that much as this is an isolated case, dealing with its aftermath requires more effort.

“Tourism is a very sensitive industry and this incident just frustrates all the efforts that are being made to develop the tourism industry,” she said, “Going forward we need to strengthen our efforts that are being geared towards making the tourism sector the heartbeat of the economy.”

Cuthbert Baguma; a former executive director of UTB, said much as this is an isolated incident, it should help the government to create a Crisis Management Unit that ably responds to incidents like this one.

He says Kenya which often suffers such incidents has done this very well by partnering the Kenya Wildlife Service with the Kenya Tourism Federation.

Secret rescue plan

Until the day of the rescue, it remained unclear how the government was going about saving the two. Fred Enanga, the Spokesperson of Police had two days earlier told The Independent that there would be no public updates on the kidnap because “over-reporting” on the matter could endanger the already precarious lives of the victims.

Enanga in the early afternoon of April 06 when The Independent asked him for an update on the kidnap said there was a continuous man-hunt operation going on.

Following news of the kidnapping, a joint security operation by the Uganda Police, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and Uganda Wildlife Authority game wardens was mounted to rescue Endecott and her guide.

An April 03 statement signed by deputy Police Spokesperson Polly Namaye said police had dispatched an elite squad from the Tourism Police to reinforce the security teams at Queen Elizabeth National Park which borders parts of the restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The police and government appeared determined to reassure tourists and the general public that although this is the first incident of this kind registered in a very peaceful setting, “strengthened safety measures were in place for both the local residents and visitors.”

Baguma had earlier told The Independent that as soon as such incidents happen, UTB should have been passing out re-assuring messages in the media showing how the government is responding to the incident and showing how tourism activities are still going in Queen Elizabeth National Park and other parks around the country.

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