How tiff between two ministers may have handed our islands to Uganda
SEE ALSO :Hyacinth ties Lake Victoria businessBut in an interesting statement years back, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni said although the waters around Migingo could belong to Kenya, the fish in it belonged to Uganda. Uganda has also hoisted a flag on the island and has been arresting Kenyan fishermen operating around there over claims of trespass. This is despite the fact that Kenya has declared the island lies on her territory. Ugandan authorities recently forcibly shut down a kindergarten run by Kenyans on the island. Besides Migingo, Uganda has had a domineering presence in other islands in Kenya such as Sigulu, Hama, Lolwe, Remba, Ringiti, Oyamo and Ndeda. It is only the two big islands – Rusinga and Mfangano – in Homa Bay County that can be said to be comfortably under the control of the Kenyan government. As a result, hundreds of fishermen have been arrested and fish worth millions of shillings and fishing gear confiscated by Ugandan military and police officers. Kenyan authorities only talk of dialogue and plead for release of the fishermen.
SEE ALSO :Across the Great Lakes aloneLast month, three Kenyan Administration Police officers and six fishermen were arrested and detained at Namaingo by Ugandan soldiers for allegedly trespassing into their waters. The officers and fishermen were later released following intervention of top security officials from the two states. According to the fishermen, Ugandan soldiers terrorise Kenyans on the islands and venture all the way to mainland beaches with little or no resistance from Kenyan security forces. The Kenyan residents of Sigulu have since the early 1970s become naturalised Ugandan citizens, and have their representatives in Ugandan Parliament and other local authorities in Samia Bugwe and Bugiri districts of Eastern Uganda. The Kenyan government then did not lodge any diplomatic protest and the matter just fizzled out. The seizure of Sigulu has since divided many Banyala people into the two countries, with some remaining at Port Victoria on the Kenyan mainland, while half of their families became Ugandan citizens against their wishes. Fridah Yagomba, 90, from Obaro Sub-location in Busia County largely blames the successive regimes since independence of neglecting individuals living on the shores of the lake. “Uganda has been exploiting that neglect to claim territory that has always been Kenyan and convert some desperate Kenyans into Uganda citizens,” she says. Mrs Yagomba, who lived in Uganda for more than two decades, says no Ugandan owns land on the islands. She says there is Siro island, which is a Luhya word for night. The rocky island was used by fishermen to camp at night after casting their fishing nets. Colonial boundary “This tells you why Siro, Lolwe and Wayasi cannot be Uganda settlements,” says Mrs Yagomba, adding that there is a colonial boundary popularly known as ‘Singla’ (Luhya word for signal). “The signal had lights which were used to direct ships and boats at night but it is unfortunate that they were vandalised by people who were looking for mercury.” Other than Singla, Mr Osunga, a fisherman from Budalang’i, says there is also Musambwa, which is a Luhya word for rock. It is marked with letters ‘K’ and ‘U’ to indicate which parts belong to Kenya and Uganda. Walter Tende, whose father served as the area chief in 1980s, says he was born in the area. “The islands belong to Kenya. I know that because I was born in Yimbo and some of our families have land in the islands to date,” he says, adding that they lived peacefully until Uganda started laying claim to the islands. Previous efforts to redraw the boundary stalled after preliminary results showed the disputed Migingo islandwas 510 metres inside Kenya as was evidenced by the colonial maps dating back to 1926. Former Migingo Beach Management Unit Chairman Juma Ombori says the arrival of Ugandans on the island was gradual and well planned. “They began by collecting taxes from fishermen and arresting those they claimed were trespassing into their side of the lake. They collected Sh3 per kilo of fish. Then one day we woke up and found they had hoisted a flag,” says Ombori. Homa Bay County Commissioner Irungu Machiar has promised they will construct a new police post on Remba island to boost security inthe area. [email protected]