By Samuel Okulony
"We are living in fear, our families back in Uganda don't know if we are alive or dead; when we were arrested, some of our colleagues tried to run away and were killed and us who survived have not made any contact with our families; we have been detained for more than two month and not taken to any court." Narrates the three Ugandan fishermen, Mr. Wambale Brian 31 years, Musah George 68 and Patrick … 42 who were arrested by the Congolese soldiers in July 2018.
This revelation was given to me during my recent visit to the province of North Kivu in Goma DRC where I was invited to participate in a cross broader meeting under the Great Lakes Coalition for the Conservation of Natural Resources (GLCCNR) ( a loose coalition of CSOs from Uganda, Rwanda and DRC). From the meeting, I was given a rare opportunity to visit them in one of the military barracks where they are being detained waiting to be transferred to Kinshasa, the capital of DRC.
The three fishermen insist they were fishing on the Uganda waters but the Congolese soldiers rounded them up and arrested them while those who tried to ran away, were shot dead. They have not did not get the opportunity to bury their friends instead they are being locked in a military barracks in Congo leaving their families in agony of their whereabouts.
The unfortunate incident happened in July 2018, when the Ugandan soldiers and that of the DRC engaged in fatal fights around Lake Edward, which saw over 37 Ugandans and Congolese nationals die or go missing.
Among those who survived are Mr. Wambale Brian, Musa George and Patrick (I didn't get his second name clearly) but have little or no hope if they will ever come back home, Uganda.
It is very unfortunate that the fishing conflict around Lake Edward, which runs along the border between southwestern Uganda and northeastern DRC, has continued to raise tensions over the years with each accusing the other of illegally fishing in their waters. These conflicts stands to betray the good neighborly relations between the two countries, which share several natural resources including Lake Albert, Lake Edward, the greater Virunga National Park, Queen Elizabeth national park among others.
The DRC and Uganda governments have diplomatic relations and agreements governing the use and conservation of transboundary natural resources which include the Ngordoto agreement of 2007 on Bilateral relations, the 1986 Agreement on establishing a joint permanent cooperation, the 1990 agreement of cooperation for the explorations of hydrocarbons and exploitation of common fields and the Luanda the Luanda agreement on cooperation and normalization of relations 2002.
All these agreement signed by both counties provide basis for the diplomatic relations to manage solve the conflict on the boarder but they are not following. In fact, both countries are party to the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region under the frameworks of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). This pact, which binds both Uganda and the DRC to promote peace and development, which should be used to promote peace is being ignored by both governments, resulting in the death, arrests and detention of several nationals.
The fact that both Uganda and the DRC are signatory to the above pact makes it incumbent upon them to use non-violence means in resolving conflicts and disputes, undertake mutual defense where necessary as opposed to fighting each other, fight against the illegal exploitation of natural resources, and not fight fishing communities and engage in judicial cooperation among others.
Instead of finding amicable solutions to the challenges, the two neighboring countries have continued to have tense relationship at certain points in time the Congolese have accused Ugandan forces of encroaching on their territory, while Ugandan authorities have complained that the DRC does not do enough to fight militia activity near the border. These conflicts could escalate further and affect negatively on the ongoing oil developments in the region.
These continuous conflicts could negatively impact on the Uganda's oil industry where government and oil companies are in the advanced stages of commencing oil production where a number of key oil infrastructure is being put in place including the Tilenga project located at the tail end of lake albert just about nearly 15 km to DRC. In addition, the planned crude oil pipeline, feeder pipelines, central processing facilities. These facilities will be located around or near the border with the DRC, which has had a bitter relationship on the shared resources.
Therefore, the government of Uganda and DRC should honor the signed agreement and speed up the full implementation and compliance to protect the communities and developments along the border for the peaceful coexistence of the two countries.
The two government take all the necessary efforts to demarcate the boarder and or harmonize the fishing laws used at the shared water bodies ensure that the fishermen who use the lake as a primary source of livelihoods understand and implement them. This will prevent future conflicts and arrests undermining the security of these countries.
Finally, the two governments must use their diplomatic relations and unconditionally release the fishermen who have been arrested in specific countries so to release tension and have them united with their families.
The writer is a programmes and research coordinator of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance