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By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd September 2011 03:00 AM

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.

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.

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 in Council 1926, and Kenya Legal Notice No. 718 of 1963, Schedule II Boundaries, Part I.

The writer has seen the contents of these documents and they are fundamentally in agreement save perhaps for the fact that Uganda’s Constitution plots the points clockwise while that of Kenya plots them in the opposite direction.

Overall, the Kenya-Uganda boundary extends for approximately 580 miles (933kms), and the Lake Victoria segment is approximately 86 miles (138kms). It is important to note that the colonial boundary demarcations in Lake Victoria followed natural features that principally included the thalweg (deepest point) of River Sio and a chain of islands with straight connecting points. At the point in dispute, the documents state that the western most point of Pyramids island forms the boundary. The area, however, has three islands. Which of the islands is called Pyramid is what the surveyors have to determine.

Uganda Constitution: “…thence downstream following the thalweg of River Sango to its confluence with River Sio to its mouth in Lake Victoria. From this point, the boundary continues following a straight line southwesterly to the most northerly point of Sumba Island; thence by the western and southwestern shores of that island to its most southerly point; thence following a straight line southeasterly to the most westerly point of Mageta Island; thence following a straight line, still southerly to the most westerly point of Kiringiti Island; thence following a straight line southerly to the most westerly point of Ilemba Island; thence following a straight line southerly to the westernmost point of Pyramid Island; thence following a straight line due south to a point on latitude 01000’S.” (Source: Constitution of Uganda, 1995).

Why boundary teams failed to agree

According to a member of the joint Uganda-Kenya survey team, the last attempt by the surveyors to delineate the boundary broke down for two reasons: One, that Ugandans wanted permanent marking to be placed in the lake by way of buoys to mark the areas already agreed, which Kenyans did not want.

And two; they did not agree on which of the three Migingo Islands is the Pyramid Island described in the colonial boundary documents.

The Ugandan team insists the island shaped like a pyramid is the Pyramid Island referred to, while the Kenyan team insists that the bigger Island south of the two is the Pyramid Island in question. Kenyans instead referred to what Ugandans call Pyramid Island variously as Elephant Island (this name is not documented anywhere) and Ugingo Island (likely a miss-spelling in one of the colonial maps published in The Standard).

The disputed island lies west of Pyramid or Elephant or Ugingo, which puts it in Uganda. But if the boundary is the bigger island down south, which is not shaped like a pyramid, but could pass off as an elephant, then the entire three islands collectively known as Migingo are in Kenya.

It’s therefore down to semantics (with Kenya inventing new names for the islands, which were collectively named) and optics to determine which island is pyramidal; the most likely reason why, of all islands in the lake, only this was described by an English name.

It is also important to note that the one-acre disputed island, which is barely three feet above the water, may have been a small inconsequential rock jutting out of the water at the time of demarcation in 1926 and therefore the colonialists could, in their wisdom, have decided to put Pyramid Island in Kenya and the bigger island south in Uganda.

The fact that the coordinates are approximated and not exact also adds more confusion to the dispute. According to Google Earth coordinates, the bigger island south, which Kenya refers to as Pyramid, starts at 33° 56’ E longitude and ends at 33° 56’ 38.68’’ E, while the island Uganda refers to as Pyramid starts at 33° 56’ 22.64’’ E and ends at 33° 56’ 34.62’’ E.

If the documents mentioned the coordinates exactly, Kenya would win the argument, but all the documents say “approximately 33° 56’ E” not “exactly 33° 56’ E”! Given that all the islands fall in the approximate description, then the determinant must be why a particular island was called Pyramid and which island it is!

In that case, Uganda wins the argument, but it would require an independent eye to point which of the islands is shaped like a pyramid for Kenya to accept. Indeed even from Google Earth images, it’s very clear one of the islands is shaped like a pyramid.
Implications of location of Migingo

Well, it all boils down to fish and control of the fishing waters. Kenya which has the smallest portion of Lake Victoria exports ten times more fresh water fish than Uganda, meaning that a lot of its fish is caught in Ugandan waters.

This is the reason the Kenya survey team refused the physical placing of buoys in the lake along the boundary because all Kenyans crossing the line would be caught pants down. Hardly any Ugandans cross to fish in Kenyan waters.

Should Uganda lose the islands to Kenya, it will be very difficult for it to police its waters down south and would require the construction of a floating rig or buy a policing yacht that can stay ashore for a very long time, from which its police and marine force could monitor the waters near the Tanzania tri-point.

Otherwise, Kenyans will continue to have unfettered access to Uganda waters.


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