By Kepher Otieno
Preliminary reports from month-long border survey to determine the location of the controversial Migingo Island show it is in Kenya.
But that is the only good news. The bad news is that the one-acre island is only 510 metres inside Kenya’s territory. For Kenyan fishermen, this means that they would only fish a half a kilometre into the western waters that teem with fish. They would constantly risk getting into trouble with Uganda’s police.
Kenyan surveyors concluded the mapping of the five islands in Lake Victoria after visiting Migingo on Saturday. They had opted to go it alone after their Ugandan counterparts returned home to consult their seniors following a disagreement over certain technicalities.
Yesterday, the Kenyan surveyors confirmed they had concluded their work, but declined to discuss the content of their preliminary report saying they were waiting for the Ugandans to return.
Kenya’s Director of Land Survey Ephantus Murage yesterday told The Standard results of the joint survey cannot be declared until the two teams compile a joint report as was spelt out in the joint communiquË at the start of the exercise.
"We will have to wait for them to come back so that we jointly demarcate new boundary pillars and then compile a technical report to hand over to our governments," Mr Murage explained.
But an expert close to the Kenyan team said evidence gathered so far showed Migingo was in Kenya.
"Even though they shelved the announcements on which side Migingo falls, preliminary scientific evidence collected from the Lake and analysed showed that the disputed island was 510 metres (about half a kilometre) inside Kenya," said the source, who sought anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
He added: "This primarily means the island belongs to Kenya going by the in-depth analysis backed by the 1926 Order-in-Council."
Ugandans remained non-committal on when they would resume the demarcation and compile a joint technical report to declare the results. Ugandan’s Director of Land Management Justin Bwogi said he could not state exactly when they would resume.
"We are still consulting. But we will come back very soon," he reassured.
Kenya’s principal surveyor in charge of field operations Julius Rotich said they had completed most of the assignments.
He clarified what remained was joint analysis of scientific data collected from the lake, construction of new boundary pillars, compilation of a joint technical report and installation of buoys in the lake.
"We will have to wait for the Ugandans to come back so that we compile a joint technical report for the two governments to make an official announcement," he said.
On Saturday, the Kenyan surveyors visited the island for the second time in a fortnight and mapped it despite earlier fears that the Ugandan forces on the island would turn them away.
Ugandan experts on the joint survey team retreated to their country last week after they differed on technicalities of demarcating the new boundary pillars.
While they wanted 10 beacons in a certain area, Kenyans wanted one pillar constructed in each identified geographical pillar.
But although the exercise stalled, Kenyan surveyors carried on with the mapping of the five islands on Lake Victoria Mageta, Sumba, Ringiti, Pyramid, and Migingo on grounds that it would not jeopardise the joint agreement.
"Now that we have finished our mappings, we will tell Ugandans our findings when they jet back," said Mr Rotich. He said the Kenyan team will in the meantime continue to analyse the data in Kisumu until the Ugandans arrive.
Security and fisheries experts have said the dispute over the island was over its rich fisheries and strategic position on the lake. Most of the 1,000 fishermen on the island are Kenyan.
The survey work ordered by the Kenya and Uganda governments to help resolve the row that was already straining the relations between the two countries has so far taken 49 of its 60 days mandate.
It will cost the two governments Sh140 million.