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By Vision Reporter

Added 24th September 2011 08:00 PM

UGANDA Cranes play Harambee Stars from Kenya on Oct. 8 at Namboole in a do-or-die game that would lead to a place at the 2012 African Cup of Nations. In the stadium, the name Migingo is likely to come up. It is a tiny island that has brought the two nations into conflict that is still unresolved. ODOOBO C. BICHACHI explains why the problem is much bigger.

UGANDA Cranes play Harambee Stars from Kenya on Oct. 8 at Namboole in a do-or-die game that would lead to a place at the 2012 African Cup of Nations. In the stadium, the name Migingo is likely to come up. It is a tiny island that has brought the two nations into conflict that is still unresolved. ODOOBO C. BICHACHI explains why the problem is much bigger.

Kenya, Uganda lock horns over a rock

It’s all about fish, nothing more

UGANDA Cranes play Harambee Stars from Kenya on Oct. 8 at Namboole in a do-or-die game that would lead to a place at the 2012 African Cup of Nations. In the stadium, the name Migingo is likely to come up. It is a tiny island that has brought the two nations into conflict that is still unresolved. ODOOBO C. BICHACHI explains why the problem is much bigger.

THE dispute over the tiny Migingo Island in Lake Victoria is increasingly coming to define the diplomatic relationship between Uganda and Kenya. Since 2009 when the conflict peaked, the two countries have been treated to a regular stampede with politicians and the media, especially in Kenya, trumpeting war if Uganda does not vacate the island.

Uganda leaders and media, on the other hand, have played it quiet. Yet the persistent sabre-rattling from Kenya have ensured that the matter is not off the table and could very much affect the new found spirit of the East African Community.
Latest clash

Two weeks ago, Kenya upped the ante by dispatching 50 administrative police constables to the disputed island to challenge Ugandan’s continued hold.

As expected, the contingent was denied landing rights by the Ugandan police stationed on the island, spurring another round of diplomatic activities in Kampala and Nairobi and enlisting rabid rants in the Kenyan parliament and public commentators.

Kenya’s frustration is because it regards the area as its territory and Ugandan police there as foreign “occupation”. Perhaps to address this, Uganda’s police chief, Kale Kayihura, and his Kenyan counterpart Mathew Iteere on August 23 announced in Kampala that they were forming a joint policing force on the island until the dispute is resolved. Because that meant allowing Kenyan Police on Migingo, it calmed the nerves in Nairobi. However, ultimately the demand that the actual owner of the island must be established sooner than later still rings high.
Survey teams

So far, two joint technical survey teams, set up since 2009 under the aegis of the March 2009 and May 2009 Kampala and Nairobi joint communiqués of presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Mwai Kibaki (Kenya), have failed to resolve the dispute, perhaps confirming suspicion that the dispute is really not geographical, but political and economic.

But why will the Migingo dispute not go away? What do the technical boundary documents say and what is the basis of the counter claims of ownership?
Origin of the conflict

Migingo means abandoned place in Luo. The islands were not occupied until possibly the early 1990s when a few fishermen established camp, usually for a few days, as they smoked and dried surplus stocks of their catch. Permanent settlement on the islands only came in the late 1990s.

Migingo refers to the set of three islands. Of the three, only one, the smallest, is occupied and the other two are too steep for settlement, let alone docking of boats.

According to a Bugiri local government official who preferred anonymity, it has not always been clear where the islands belong, being far off in the lake. Many Ugandan and Kenyan fishermen assumed the islands are in Kenyan territory or mark the boundary.

However, in 2003, the Bugiri RDC, Naava Nabagesara, dispatched a force of Local Defence Unit (LDU) to the island to protect interests of Ugandan fishermen who had filed complaints of pirates using the island to stage robberies. Apparently, there was no security force on the island, which was increasingly attracting fishermen because of the abundant fish in its waters.

This decision caused a furore in the district council, but Naava stood her ground. It was also not challenged by Kenya because even Kenya was not sure whether it owned the islands.

With dwindling fish stocks and Uganda’s policing to stop fish smuggling to Kenya, conflict over the island started to emerge. Kenyan fishermen, who dominate fishing activities in the eastern part of Lake Victoria, called on their government for protection.

Each country made its stake official – that they own the island – and then went to work backwards to justify their claim.
Uganda’s claim is based on the provisions of the Uganda Constitution and the 1926 British Order in Council that demarcated the boundary.

Kenya’s claim on the other hand is based on the 1926 British Order in Council that the islands are nearer Kenya than Uganda and that the occupants are Luo and the name is Luo.

Unfortunately, boundaries are not simplistically defined or determined by gut-feelings, perceptions or wishes; they are scientific and must be measured – on the ground.

Migingo ownership a puzzle

Several documents are critical in resolving this matter. First and foremost, the very elaborately written-out British Order in Council of 1926 that established the current Uganda-Kenya boundary, complete with coordinates, pillars and natural features.

The second is the Schedule 2 of the Uganda Constitution (1995), which was simply transplanted from Schedule 1 of the 1967 Uganda Constitution. Thirdly, the Kenya Colony and Protectorate (Boundaries) Order in Council 1926, and Kenya Legal Notice No. 718 of 1963, Schedule II Boundaries, Part I, the districts, 37. Busia district, pp. 290.

Three documents are critical to resolving this matter, first and foremost being the very elaborately written-out British Order in Council of 1926 that established the current Uganda-Kenya boundary, complete with coordinates, pillars and natural features.

Then there the Schedule 2 of the Uganda Constitution (1995) which was simply transplanted from Schedule 1 of the 1967 Uganda Constitution, and then The Kenya Colony and Protectorate (Boundaries) Order i

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