Ugandan settled on Migingo in 2004
Publish Date: Mar 29, 2009
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By Milton Olupot
in Migingo Island

THE question of Migingo, the disputed island which is about half the size of a football pitch and lying on the border of Uganda and Kenya in Lake Victoria is more complex than it appears.

Although the two sister states have put in place a team of experts survey the borders on the lake, the determination with which either side is eager to prove that they own the rocky island may not easily fade, whatever the outcome of the survey.

Some of the documents to be used in the determination of the ownership of the island are the Order in Council 1926 and the Constitutions of the two countries.

The experts will adopt methods to transfer the boundary description from the information documents to the ground and eventually mark the boundaries and create a no-man’s land.

The disputed island is home to about 200 people crammed in about 100 two-metre rooms fabricated out of iron sheets which make up both the walls and roofs.

It is a docking station for the lucrative fishing point on the lake, deep into the Ugandan border.

Migingo Island is one of the three islands standing close to each other.

The others are Pyramid Island probably named after its shape of a pyramid, which stands close to Migingo undisputedly on the Kenyan side and Usingo on the Tanzanian side of the border.

Life on the island can be traced back to 2004 when a Ugandan whose ancestral home is in Mukono district, settled on it before other Ugandans joined him.

Joseph Nsubuga, a fisherman however, narrated that when he moved onto the island, he found an abandoned house, which indicated that somebody else had lived on the isalnd.

Nsubuga moved to Migingo after the island where he had previously stayed became insecure.

Being the nearest landing site to the richest fishing ground on the lake, Ugandans flocked the island. They soon discovered that the Kenyan main land was nearer than Uganda from Migingo.

Nsubuga says it takes about two hours by speed boat to travel to the Kenyan mainland and over six hours to the Ugandan mainland at Bugiri or Mokono landing sites.

Due to the differences in distance from Migingo to the mainland on either side, the fish is sold in Kenya.

Initially Ugandans caught the fish and docked at Migingo, where the Kenyans bought it for sale back home.

However, the Kenyans slowly started moving onto the island and joined the fishing business.

At this time the Ugandan fisheries department established an office on the island with a Beach Management Unit to oversee fishing, with Nsubuga as its chairman, together with maritime security comprising of Ugandan forces.

The beach unit was set up by a fisheries officer, Deos Mwogerera.

Taxes were introduced and this was the beginning of the problem since Ugandans paid less as the natives and Kenyans paid more as foreigners.

Kenyans protested and others started by-passing Migingo island and operating straight from the mainland.

This, Mwogerera said prompted him to arrest the culprits who he handed over to Bugiri district authorities. However, they were released after the Kenyan government complained.

Another fisherman, 23-year-old Emmanuel Nsubuga, who has been on the island since 2005, says in 2008, maritime security was withdrawn from the island and insecurity set in. Subsequently, many Ugandans fled while the Kenyans continued to arrive on the island.

To date Kenyans comprise about 60% of the population. Ugandans are 35% while the Tanzanians are 5%.

Nsubuga says the island is active during the day with bars, food markets and shops mostly dealing in fishing materials, doing good business.

He estimates the population of men to be about 60% and women, 40%. Suprisingly, there are no children on the island served by one clinic that is owned by a Kenyan.

There are only two latrines on the island.

A Kenyan fisherman who only identified himself as Otieno said the origin of the problem on the island was the annual tax of sh50,000 levied on Kenyans compared to sh10,000 for Ugandans.

According to Mwogerera, the law is that all fish caught in Uganda water should be monitored for proper statistics and therefore must be transported to Kenya through Migingo, but unscrupulous Kenyan fishermen prefer to take it straight to the mainland.

He said three tonnes of Nile Perch are offloaded everyday.

“It is all taken to Kenya, because no Ugandan businessman can afford to transport the fish to Uganda due to the distance,” Mwogerera says.

Kenyan fishmongers travel to the island where a kilogramme of Nile Perch fetches ksh160 (about sh4,000).

On Friday, top cabinet ministers from both countries visited the island and re-assured the residents that the crisis would be resolved.

Uganda’s team was led by the third deputy premier and internal affairs minister, Kirunda Kivejinja while the Kenyan delegation, by foreign affairs minister, Moses Wetangala.

Relations have soared between the two countries since the start of the dispute in November 2008.

Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya have also discussed the matter.

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