Isolated islands are now 'hot' vote-hunting areas

A section of Mageta island in Siaya County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Forgotten for a better part of the five-year election cycle, Lake Victoria’s tiny islands have now turned into goldmines for politicians.

That is what happened in 2013 and 2017 when politicians seeking seats in the county even boarded leaking boats that usually serve the islanders to go and sell their agenda and ask for votes.

Unfortunately, most of the islands lack even basic amenities and others do not have tarmacked roads, several years after independence.

A number of governor seat candidates in Siaya and Homa Bay counties have been camping on the tiny islands.

According to Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) data, Ndeda, Oyamo, Mageta and Sifu islands have 4,568 registered voters.

Mageta, which is the biggest with a population of more than 4,000, has 2,200 voters and has never known peace because of a boundary dispute between Kenya and Uganda. 

Even though they were colonial detention camps, the islands still lack some basic facilities such as schools, hospitals and fresh drinking water.

Fishermen from the islands want the leaders to find a lasting solution to the insecurity in the lake, majorly caused by Ugandans.

The fishermen, through the Beach Management Units (BMU), said fishing is the only source of livelihood for the island communities and should be accorded better treatment.

Fishing is the only source of livelihood for the island communities. [File, Standard]

“We call upon our leaders to address the insecurity issue. When fishermen will be giving out their scorecard for the elected leaders, one of the main scores will be how they handled our issues and we shall judge them harshly,” said Sika BMU official Julius Odembo.

Senator James Orengo, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) governor candidate, whose main opponent is former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo, has been visiting the island and promising to initiate development projects.

Orengo, who has toured Ndeda, Oyamo and Mageta, has promised the islanders that security will be beefed up.

“It is very evident that those living on the island have been forgotten both by the national and county governments,” said Orengo.

“This is the reason why they must elect a leader who will ensure that all their issues are addressed because they all pay taxes and therefore need services like the rest of Kenyans.”

He added that there is need to have a proper border patrol system to protect the Kenyan fishermen.

The senator also said his government will develop mechanisms to ensure fish traders get capital easily.

“We want traders especially women to have money in their pockets. We will support them to establish Saccos so they can save money and even take loans,” Orengo said.

He also promised to ensure all fishermen are registered with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) which will help them gain access to better health services.

A section of Ndeda island in Siaya County. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

Gumbo’s team also visited Mageta with a promise that he will address the problems of the islanders.

“We want the islanders to feel like they are also part of Kenya. We will ensure that they get education facilities,” said Gumbo, who is vying on United Democratic Movement (UDM) ticket.

He added that the islands have great untapped potential but lack the basic infrastructure to make them developed.

Peter Oluoch, a resident of Ndeda said politicians were paying more attention to the islands just for votes. “Many of the islanders are registered voters and this is why the politicians are giving all these promises,” he said. 

Homa Bay governor candidates Gladys Wanga of ODM and independent candidate Evans Kidero have also been visiting the county’s islands to market their candidature.

Wanga campaigned in Mfangano islands where she promised to bring development. She also visited Ringiti, Takawiri, Rusinga and Remba which have also been isolated and have little infrastructure.

Last week, Kidero also visited the islands and promised to initiate development projects.