Fred Matiang’i, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior could just be the saviour Kenyans living in and around Lake Victoria needed to beat back the wanton aggression by neighbours.
After years of cries, Dr Matiangi known for his firmness, has promised to do what the harassed folks have always asked for.
In Homa Bay recently, the Interior CS said measures contemplated would include posting more police officers on the beaches and the islands and opening more police posts. He warned neighbours that they would know in three months-time that Kenya too has security officers.
Could he deliver?
Well said Dr Matiang’i. Eyes on you to match your words with action. Ugandan authorities in particular, need to be told that Kenya is a sovereign state.
A little history would suffice. Long before Ugandan marine and police started whipping Kenyan fishermen and forcing them to eat raw fish after confiscating their engines and catch, Idi Amin claimed not only Kenya’s Lake Victoria territory, but swathes of land stretching all the way to Naivasha before he was stopped in his tracks by founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
That was in 1976. Though advanced in age and failing in health, Kenyatta did not hesitate to engage his fighting gears and warned Amin to prepare for a lesson he would never forget. “Those who say their country extends beyond present borders”, he warned in a memorable quote, “I advise them to go to hell and dream there. We shall not give away even a quarter of an inch”.
Kenyatta matched his words with action by deploying heavily armed troops complete with tanks along the common border. Amin coiled his tail and backed off.
Fast foward! Kilometres of territory has since gone, with the loss of Lolwe, Sigulu, Wayasi, Hama, Oyamo, Siro and now the disputed Migingo Island that is 500m inside Kenya is on the verge of slipping away. Today, only Mfangano, Remba, Takawiri, Ringiti, Sumba and Mageta remain of inhabited Islands in Kenyan Lake Victoria waters, albeit with inhabitants perpetually living in fear of brutal incursions by Ugandan marines.
‘The water is ours’
Somalia presently is at The Hague eyeing tracts of Kenya’s territorial waters in the Indian Ocean and Ugandans are out to drive Kenya out of Lake Victoria altogether. President Yoweri Museveni has even claimed that the waters of Lake Victoria belong to his land-locked nation.
While it is true parts of Kenya were originally in Uganda (The Kenya/Uganda railways ended in Kisumu in 1901) that changed 82 years ago in 1926 when British Secretary of State Herbert Asquith transferred those parts to Kenya
The grit and audacity by Ugandan marine soldiers to arrest and detain Kenyan security forces answering distress calls from fishermen as happened recently to officers stationed at Usenge in Siaya County smacks of unalloyed arrogance.
Yet Kenya should blame itself for playing saint in a devil’s den. We must let Ugandans and by extension, Tanzanians know that there is no Lake Victoria without Kenya that contributes much of the water via rivers such as Nzoia, Sondu/Miriu, Yala, Nyando, Mara, Sio, Migori, Kuja, and others that combined surpass the inflow from Kagera River from the Congo Basin. Uganda has no major river feeding Lake Victoria to talk home about. The White Nile that originates from Jinja actually drains the lake.
In truth, Kenya and Uganda are like twins that share a placenta and cannot survive independent of each other, as seen during times of stress. Ugandans in their thousands sought refuge in Kenya during the Idi Amin persecutions in the late 1970’s. Likewise, Kenyans flocked into Uganda during the bloody 2007/08 post-election violence with some opting to settle there.
Whose fish is it?
Fish in the water know no physical boundary and in the case of Lake Victoria, it is foolhardy to talk “of our fish” provided that correct fishing gears are adhered to and requisite licenses paid to authorities in either territory. Those not complying ought to be dealt with lawfully without discrimination.
Islands annexed by Uganda since Mzee Kenyatta’s departure are inhabited principally by Kenya’s Banyala, Luo and Samia communities who have been forced to adopt Ugandan citizenship.
Besides, communities overlap the border while others like the Turkana and Karamojong traverse the common border for pasture and water. Creating barriers such as what has been happening in Lake Victoria is the height of folly that must be avoided for the common good.
Beefing up security as Dr Matiangi has promised could float peace if realised because strength tends to respect strength. Such is the case at Busia, Malaba and other designated border points where security is fortified on either side and harassment of those crossing for business, social or other activities is unheard of.
Matching up security in Lake Victoria is probably the panacea that has not been found all these years. Proceed Dr Matiangi.
Mr Ombuor is a Senior Writer with The Standard. [email protected]