This article was written by Ben Banks and first appeared in Motherwell Football Club’s matchday programme All In on 11th February 2022, with consultation by Maz Robertson, WildAid East Africa & Human-wildlife coexistence representative.
Often dubbed as Motherwell’s Ugandan prince by fans, Fir Park’s Bevis Mugabi has teamed up with WildAid to protect wildlife in Africa.
Bevis Mugabi has had a fine career in football to date with plenty of twists and turns, but the end to his night at St Mirren earlier this month must rank amongst his strangest.
Motherwell fans have got to know him as a commanding centre-back, who has the versatility to play as a right-back. And, apparently a forward.
After his starring role in attack during the 1-1 draw in Paisley, he stepped off the pitch for post-match press duties to talk about the only natural thing possible following such a job – a trip to the safari.
Mugabi has his focus on the bread and butter day job but with an awareness of the platform football has given him, he’s keen to give back to his homeland of Uganda.
Fans of the African nation’s national team flock to Motherwell’s social media whenever Mugabi merely breathes in ML1. Now he’s looking to make a difference to those in the nation he represents internationally.
‘Well fans are no doubt keen for the centre-back to pen a new contract, but the Southampton academy graduate has put pen to paper this year for a cause important to him.
WildAid is an international wildlife conservation charity that focuses on mass media campaigns to help protect wildlife, like elephants, rhinos and lions, plus those that are threatened by illegal trade.
The illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion industry on a global scale and it is largely being driven by supply and demand in expanding economies. Many wildlife conservation groups focus on scientific studies and anti-poaching efforts, but WildAid works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products and increase conservation support on a local level.
It has partners and ambassadors in Uganda and across the globe to help reach its target market. It wants people in Uganda and from the area to help them in their cause to raise awareness, which is where Motherwell’s centre-back comes in.
The nation’s football federation got in touch with Mugabi to see if he was keen on providing a helping hand to WildAid, something he was only too keen to do.
“It came through a couple of months ago,” Mugabi explained. “It happened because the football federation in Uganda messaged me to ask if I would like to become a part of the WildAid campaign.
“They wanted me to become an ambassador for the campaign. I want to help and any way I can do that, I am more than willing to do so. It all came through my national team as that’s how I was asked to be a part of it.
“It’s something I have always been interested in, to a certain degree. I have always wanted to start giving back to Uganda itself and seeing how I can help things.
“I want to help, so this feels like one of many steps I can take to hopefully go on to make a small difference.”
He’s not Kim Kardashian – despite his record-breaking header against Ross County last year doing its best to break the internet – but Mugabi does have a large following on social media.
Just on Twitter alone, he has over 8,200 followers, and fans flock to his posts whenever he launches one. There’s no PR company involved either, despite what the blue tick may infer.
Mugabi believes it’s important for players like himself to use their platform, no matter how big or small. You don’t have to look too far back to see the impact of Manchester United superstar Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide children in England with free school meals and reading opportunities.
And Mugabi isn’t the only footballer to be signed up to WildAid. Everton and Nigeria player Alex Iwobi is also signed, as is former Celtic man Victor Wanyama, while David Beckham is one of the cause’s more high-profile ambassadors.
With Leonardo Di Caprio, Sir Richard Branson, Jackie Chan, Prince William and Motherwell’s prince of Uganda signed up, Mugabi’s certainly in a cause with plenty of people with profiles to make a difference.
It might only be a small step with social media posts here and there, but Mugabi still wants to contribute to a charitable cause in any way he can.
“They just want to publicise things and make people more aware of what is actually going on with the wildlife in Uganda itself,” he said of what WildAid have tasked him with doing.
“They want me to help people know how important it is to the whole of Africa in general. As I said, I am more than happy to help out and provide some small help as much as I can.
“I have already started my work with them. If you have me on social media, my job is to try and give them more exposure. It’s important for us as footballers to use our platforms that we have.
“I think it is only right of us on a personal level,” he added. “It buys into the community ethos I found when I joined Motherwell.”
“I feel we have got more of a reach than the average person has. We have that with social media and different things like that we can use.
“I feel as if any footballer with that type of platform should at least try to make a difference to try and help out some charities or causes, things like that.”
Those impressions will be key in Mugabi helping highlight the wildlife problem in Uganda, and in Africa as a whole.
In 2020, The Uganda Wildlife Authority recorded 367 poaching incidents in parks between the February and May of that year, more than double the number during the same period pre-pandemic in 2019.
According to research, around 1,000 mountain gorillas remain on the planet, and Uganda is home to more than half of them. But there are low numbers in other areas, with around 300 lions remaining and 2,000 giraffes.
It’s a nation still recovering from the impacts of hardships between the 60s and 90s. A coup, a war with Tanzania, and a six-year civil war only brought on poaching further and kept visitors out of the parks.
A drastic decline in wildlife numbers came off the back of it, with numbers in Elephants dropping from an estimated number of 30,000 right down to 2,000. Giraffe numbers fell an approximate 90% in some of the most damning figures, with lions also likely to have fallen in population.
Uganda’s wildlife tourism industry has helped the issue and part of that will form Mugabi’s learning experience with WildAid, when he heads over to Africa in the summer.
When there, he will swap wrestling with Premiership strikers for a ride around an African safari, seeing the animals he’s helping in their natural habitat.
It’s an experience he’s keen to try but there is an insistence of it all being to help a good cause. It’s a problem that perhaps isn’t spoken of in the UK all that much, but Mugabi knows how important it is to the country he represents.
“It’s something I am happy to be a part of,” said Mugabi. “It is a big issue within Africa itself but you don’t really see the type of problems that there are here in Scotland.
“Especially when I go to Uganda, I will be doing a lot more work with them over there.
“So hopefully in the summertime when the season ends and we have some time off, I will actually be able to go over there and do some more bits and bobs for them.
“I am looking forward to getting out there and working on things with them. It’s going to be going and doing safari’s with them which is something I am very excited to go and do while over there.
“Then it will just be to try and get the word out some more, as that will be my role in this. There’s lions especially so I can’t wait to go and see things like that.
“Hopefully I can go and make a difference.”
All of this has been brought on in part by Mugabi’s decision to sign for Motherwell way back in 2019. From his early moments at the club, a community spirit was felt.
From chief executive Alan Burrows’ constant communication with fans on social media to a repeated stance on mental health awareness, Mugabi and the rest of the Fir Park players sense their responsibility to those who watch them.
An effort with WildAid is the first step in Mugabi’s plans to try and make a small difference to the causes that matter to him. His employers have been an influence and a positive one at that.
“I think it is only right of us on a personal level,” he added. “It buys into the community ethos I found when I joined Motherwell.
“As soon as I arrived here at Motherwell, they were very community-based in trying to get lots of different people involved and I am trying to do that now with my country.
“What Motherwell has taught me is that it is important to try and help out as many people as I can.”
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WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
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