Lake Victoria Islands: Kenyan Anger as Uganda Nets Island
Recently published on this weblog:Lake Victoria Potential Source of Regional Conflict
By Muliro Telewa
BBC News, Kisumu
Boats approaching the tiny Migingo Islands on Lake Victoria are greeted by the surprising sight of a Ugandan flag flying high above a collection of shiny tin shacks.
The three islands are located about two hours by motorboat from the Migori district of western Kenya.
According to officials from Uganda and Kenya, it takes at least nine hours by motorboat to reach the islands from Bugiri in Uganda.
The Migingo island is in our country. It is in Kenya
Fisherman Ojuku Onyonyi
The two countries have had several conflicts in the past over fishing activities on Lake Victoria.
Kenya has always considered the rocky Migingo islands to be part of its territory, and maps dating back to the mid 1950s show them to be in Kenyan territory.
But Uganda has recently laid claim to the smallest one, sparking a row between the two neighbours.
The one acre island has been home to about 1,000 people from the three East African countries, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Of the three islands, this is the most popular among the fishermen because of its flat, rocky beaches which make it easy to dock boats.
But Kenyan boats and fishermen are no longer allowed to land on the disputed island, which is guarded by armed Ugandan policemen.
In October, Uganda arrested 15 Kenyan fishermen and ordered about 800 others to leave the island.
The disputed island is prized by fishermen for its beaches
Now, the country’s flag flies prominently over the island, which acts as a landing port for fishermen on the lake.
“The Ugandans came with their flag and hoisted [it] in the Kenyan soil, something that has never happened anywhere in any part of this country,” Kenyan fisherman Ojuku Onyonyi said.
He blames a lapse on the part of the Kenyan security system for the dispute.
“The Migingo island is in our country. It is in Kenya,” he said.
The Ugandan security officers say they will only allow Kenyans back on to the island if they are led by Migori district commissioner Julius Kalonzo.
Earlier this month, Mr Kalonzo led a group of angry Kenyan fishermen to the island, where they were greeted by a Ugandan delegation.
The two groups held a four-hour meeting but failed to reach an agreement.
The two officials addressed the restless crowd of Kenyans which was threatening to pull down the Ugandan flag.
“The Kenyan government has spoken to the Ugandan government and said that according to us, Migingo belongs to us,” Mr Kalonzo said.
Harmony means working as brothers and sisters
Head of the Ugandan delegation
His statement was greeted with loud cheers from the Kenyan fishermen.
In contrast, the head of the Ugandan delegation, Bugiri regional district commissioner, Mwanaisha Chikomeko, was heckled by the largely Kenyan crowd.
She suggested the formation of a joint beach management committee to oversee fishing on the island as the two countries resolved the dispute.
“The chairperson could be a Ugandan, the treasurer could be a Kenyan, the secretary can be a Ugandan, the vice-chair can be a Kenyan, the deputy treasurer should be a Kenyan,” she said.
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
“We’ve already said that harmony means working as brothers and sisters. Be it Ugandan is harassing Kenyan, or be it Kenyan is harassing Ugandan. We want it to stop immediately,” she said.
The Ugandan flag continues to fly while surveyors investigate the boundary
The public meeting ended in disarray, and the two commissioners said the Ugandan flag would continue to fly over the island until the dispute was resolved.
Mr Onyonyi arrived at the meeting carrying a Kenyan flag with him, which he said he intended to hoist on the island.
But after the hostile gathering broke up, the fisherman was forced to surrender his flag to the Kenyan security forces who accompanied the district commissioner.
The other Kenyan fishermen grumbled but hopped into their boats and sailed off since the Ugandan security forces had cocked their guns to prove that they were still in charge.
Since then, the two countries have resolved to engage surveyors to draw up the boundaries and determine who the islands belong to.
A joint committee has also been formed to oversee activities on the island and prevent any conflict.