Agony of Kenyan fishermen tortured by Ugandan troops

Lienora Maita displays a picture of her husband who died as a result of a brutal beating from Ugandan soldiers. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]
Lienora Maita sits pensively on the bare ground outside her mud-walled house in Rutacho village. Ms Maita, 37, gazes at Lake Victoria whose waters, from a distance, look rather calm.

Ordinarily on such a sunny morning, her husband, Charles Bonny Osodo, would be back from Sigulu Island and counting his catch of the day.

But instead, Mr Osodo’s body lies inside a fresh grave beside the house. It is a week since he was buried, and the widow, pregnant with their eighth child, is too pained by the tragedy.

Osodo, 35, was a victim of assault by Ugandan military personnel who patrol the lake from their end. 

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“My husband was unlucky. He was arrested, beaten and left for dead by Ugandan troops,” narrates Maita.

She continues, amid sobs: “Besides, he was robbed of cash, fishing gear and boat all valued at over Sh350,000. It was the worst attack in Osodo’s fishing career spanning over 15 years.”

Seriously injured

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She says Osodo’s father went to pick him in Bumbe, Busia County, where he had been dumped by the soldiers. He was then taken to Nambale Sub-county Hospital, but was later referred to Busia County Referral Hospital.

He was treated and discharged after two weeks, but later succumbed to injuries at home.

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“He had been seriously injured. Minutes to his death, he vomited blood,” says the wife.

The family sold six cows to raise money for his medication.

“His death has dealt me and my children a blow because he was the sole breadwinner. Our children are still young, aged between 14 and three. Raising them single-handedly is going to be tough,” avers Maita.

Her first-born daughter is a KCPE candidate.

Maita is not alone. Many families across Budalang’i sub-county and beyond find themselves in the same predicament.

Omondi Ndege, the secretary of Beach Management Units at Marenga-Omena Beach in Busia County. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

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Women and children bear the brunt of the atrocities committed by Ugandan soldiers as most of them have become widows and orphans.

“Fishermen have been reduced to paupers after their boats and fishing gear were vandalised and engines confiscated,” says Omondi Ndege, secretary of 15 Beach Management Unit in Budalang’i, Busia County.

“Unknown to many are the travails Kenyan fishermen undergo to harvest the delicacy people enjoy in their homes and hotels,” said Ndege.

He recalls how two of their colleagues were waylaid, robbed and brutally murdered by Ugandan soldiers.

The situation has gotten worse since President Yoweri Museveni made good his threat to deploy the military in the lake.

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Ironically, Museveni made the announcement during the opening of the Busia One-Stop Border post in the presence of President Uhuru Kenyatta who led a Kenyan delegation to the function on February 24 last year.

Museveni was responding to complaints by Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong, who lamented that Kenyan fishermen were being harassed by Ugandan security personnel, and slapped with heavy fines. Those who fail to pay are arrested.

“Your Excellency, there are minor issues including arrests of our fishermen who are forced to eat raw fish. It would be better if the fish was cooked first,” Ojaamong told Museveni.

According to Ndege, more than 150 boat engines and countless fishing gear have been confiscated and taken to Lolwe and Rubia islands in Uganda.

“Our fishermen have been asked to pay Sh60,000 each equivalent of Sh2 million Ugandan shilling to secure release of their boats,” says Ndege.

The fishermen are forced to pay a similar amount every month for Ugandan number plates that must be displayed on their boats.

Lake patrol

They are now are wondering why Kenyan authorities withdrew the Quick Response Service (QRS) police, initially based at Usenge.

Their presence gave the fishermen a piece of mind because the officers patrolled the lake regularly.

Bunyala Deputy County Commissioner Jacob Ruto. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]
Bunyala Deputy County Commissioner Jacob Ruto and area OCPD Peterson Nyakundi confirmed the QRS were withdrawn due to police reforms that saw Administration Police and regular police merged.

“There is a plan to deploy another team of security agents by the Government but we don’t know when exactly they will be reporting,” says Nyakundi.

Mr Ruto and Mr Nyakundi clarified that marine police have been negotiating with the Ugandan police to release the boats and detainees.

“Most cases, including the alleged killings, go unreported, making it hard for us to take action. Nonetheless, we meet regularly with the fishermen’s representatives to deliberate on challenges they face,” says Mr Ruto.

They claim that Kenyan fishermen have themselves to blame for venturing into Uganda on fishing expeditions.

Lack of fuel make, he says, make Kenyan marine police not to patrol the lake and safeguard the interests of fishermen. 

At Marenga Omena beach, fishermen are forced to part with an extra Sh1,000 every week to be able to harvest omena aslo known as dagaa.

Some of the fishermen have been arrested and detained across the border.

Rajab Daudi counts himself lucky after escaping the wrath of Ugandan soldiers by a whisker.

Accosted him

“The Ugandans easily identify Kenyan fishing boats and go after them because regulations demand that every boat owner should write their name and contact for easy identification,” says Daudi

Daudi recalls how Uganda military men accosted him while he was on a fishing expedition and ate all his food. They also demanded that he shows them the direction of Lolwe island.

Jacob Makokha, who was born and raised along the shores of Lake Victoria in Budalang’i, started fishing in the early 1970s when he was a pupil at Bukoma Primary School. “I had to juggle between education and fishing to get money for my school fee,” he says.

At that time, he discloses, sailing into Lake Victoria waters was risky as Ugandan marine officers would pounce, arrest and beat them mercilessly.

“I have suffered in the hands of Ugandan officials; beaten, robbed of fish, money and at times even my boat,” he reveals.

The worst abuse he has ever endured was when he was forced to eat five raw mbuta (Nile Perch), starting with the head, in 1981.

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