Yet again a Ugandan-Kenyan dispute has blown up over Migingo Island, an island by name but in reality little more than a mud bank in eastern Lake Victoria, home to only a few hundred (mainly) Kenyans who contrive to scrape a living from the fish-rich waters that surround it.
The latest fracas arose after a new assistant chief, a Kenyan, was posted to the island. Thereupon Ugandan security officers banned Kenyan fishermen from fishing in Ugandan waters until the chief was removed. (For non-East Africans, or indeed anyone who hasn’t looked at a map of the Great Lakes region lately, Lake Victoria is surrounded by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, each of whose borders extend into the lake).
JUMPING THE GUN?
A Ugandan officer was reported to have described the appointment of the new assistant chief a case of “jumping the gun” before the sovereignty of the island had been resolved. Ugandan police chief, Mr Augustine Echoti, also reportedly told the unlikely-titled Chairman of the Migingo Beach Management Unit (makes it sound like the Caribbean), Mr Juma Ombori, that, “as far as they were concerned the waters belonged to no one at the moment”.
Mr Echoti apparently went on to say that the Kenyan Government should have been more patient ‘until the ownership row [over the island] was resolved’ (‘Fresh row over Migingo as Kenyan fishermen banned’, The Standard).
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ‘JOINT TECHNICAL COMMITTEE’?
As far as the Kenya Forum recalls a ‘Joint Technical Committee’ on the Kenyan side was established over two years ago (who are presumably still drawing their pay) to look into the issue of whether Migingo Island lay in Kenyan or Ugandan borders, whilst the Ugandans were at the same time ‘re-surveying’ the area. If the two sides did not resolve the issue there was even talk of the matter being put to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for a decision.
NO NEED FOR A DISPUTE
This latest dispute, like those that have gone before, is all very silly and there is no need for it: the sovereignty of Migingo Island is not in doubt.
There is no need for it for the simple reason that the matter of the island’s “ownership” was agreed clearly and unequivocally at the time of independence of both Kenya and Uganda and the proof of this fact is here with us in our capital city of Nairobi.
Stored in Kenya’s National Archives and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with copies held in Uganda and by the United Nations, are ‘instruments, documents and maps pertaining to East Africa’ and the settlement reached with the British Government by Kenya and Uganda at the time of independence that clearly delineate the border between two countries. Those documents place Migingo Island clearly and squarely within Kenya’s national border.
So what’s it all about, really, this now long-running spat between two supposedly mature counties over a mound of mud?
The Migingo Island dispute could be about fishing rights and perhaps in part it is. It could be about national bravado and bragging rights and perhaps, again, in part it is. Most likely it is about extending Uganda’s national boundary as far as possible over an area in which it is thought there may reside large deposits of oil.
Be it because of fish, bravado or oil, the nonsense over Migingo Island should stop. A quick trip to National Archives in Nairobi and Kampala, and a couple of phone calls to the United Nations, would prove that there is no basis for an argument.