By Stephen Asiimwe
By 1884/5 when the Berlin Conference took place, the tormentors decided to share Africa like bread, the impact of slicing continues to haunt East African countries and its neighbours e.g. the continued quarrels on Migingo island between Uganda and Kenya, unfinished questions between Tanzania and Malawi over a swamp threatens the big picture of the East African integration.
This tiny island floating on Lake Victoria can easily be consumed by water but states continue to exchange bitter words on this island, experts on floating islands continue to wonder whether it is Uganda or Kenya.
What does the East African treaty say on the common resources that member states share? Do we need any amendment of the treaty since we envisage the political federation by the year 2015 according to the earlier political roadmap?
In case of fish, let us say one Tilapia wants to cross from the side of Uganda to Kenya; does it require a passport or visa? The persistent row over Migingo Island on Lake Victoria could turn out to be such.
Recently, East African leaders assembled in Entebbe and discussed a number of issues such as the refinery, railway, identity cards, (“I am glad Uganda has started issuing identity cards”), non-tariff barriers and other obstacles, were good ideas, but if we don’t solve small questions of fishing or hunting, we may disrupt our great vision of East Africa which had reached an appreciative stage.
The island may not be of obvious strategic importance, it is rocky, tiny and nothing grows on it but it is not small pumpkin, it is a fishing island that could have strategic values like any other island.
We need to appreciate history, in 1977 when we parted ways because individual member states thought they could progress on their own, but with time, we realise we have slowed terribly, had we embraced integration to its logical conclusion perhaps we could now be the envy of the rest of the world.
The borders separating us were a creation of colonialists to serve their selfish ends. We have never gotten our heads around these facts and realised that since then the world has moved on, we need to do the same.
These can only happen if we break the imaginary borders in our minds and overcome the fear, indignation and suspicion that have long haunted member states, as we seek to build a better region.
Let us not even attempt to go to court; the experience on the continent is not good for example the row between Botswana and Namibia over a small island in river Chobe was submitted to the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 1996 after the regional body; the South African Development Community (SADC) failed to resolve it.
It took the world court four years to settle it after 600 pages of hearing and 38,000 of written memorandums including 2,200 of historical documents and 80 copies of historical maps.
In addition, six scientists involved in the case made written and oral presentations regarding the island’s hydrology, geomorphology, cartography and history all necessary evidence in the adjudication.
The dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the oil rich Bakasi Peninsula also went to the world court in 1994 after 30 years of failure to resolve it with the intervention of regional leaders and institutions including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It took eight years of court hearings and submissions to be settled.
The court ruled in favour of Cameroon but it took Nigeria several years agonising whether or not to accept the ruling.
Closer to East Africa; Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war in 1998-2000 over a small town on the border called Badme, after the war they agreed to have an international boundary commission on the border, using old colonial maps.
The commission delimited the boundary in April 2002 and gave Badme to Eritrea, which Ethiopia had administered four four years. Ethiopia is still administering Badme, arguing that the boundary commission acted in error; therefore, it is important for our leaders in the region to sort out Migingo Island that is likely to be a bottleneck for the regional integration.
The writer is a Pan Africanist and member of Vision East African Forum