Wave of neglect sweeps over the beaches of Lake Victoria

Women at Litare beach in Rusinga Island Homa bay county work tirelessly in the drying and packaging of Omena delicacy.[Collins Oduor,Standard]

Fishermen and traders go about their daily routine next to the stalled building that if everything had gone according to plan would have been one of the biggest fish processing plants in the region. 

The Lwanda-Kotieno Fish Auction plant on the shores of Lake Victoria, or what remains of it, now chokes in hyacinth creeping up from the lake.

 This is despite the government injecting Sh18 million into the ambitious project that was meant to help fishermen reduce post-harvest losses 10 years ago.

 Completed in 2011, the Lwanda-Kotieno plant was part of the government’s Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) to develop at least six fish landing sites in Lake Victoria, which included Usenge and Wich Lum beaches.

 The plants were seen as key in stemming the exploitation of fishermen by unscrupulous middlemen who cash in on frequent fish gluts in the market, destabilising prices. Most importantly, they were supposed to aid in value addition, thus boosting earnings for the more than 5,000 fishermen and other traders along the various beaches on Lake Victoria.

 The Lwanda-Kotieno beach is, especially vital in that it connects the counties of Siaya and Homabay.

 According to Paul Onyango, a businessman at the beach, it has untapped potential in the tourism and hospitality sector.

 “The beachfront is good for establishing hotels and other recreational facilities. But this can only happen if proper planning is conducted in order to avoid demolitions that we’ve witnessed in the past as the government tries to expand the beaches,” said Mr Onyango. At Usenge beach, there is only one toilet, serving more than 1,000 fishermen and traders.

This poses a serious health hazard, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

 Despite its strategic location as an entry point for fish harvested in Busia County, Uganda and Tanzania, Usenge beach has remained largely underdeveloped. Stakeholders now blame the unregulated sale of fish as the major cause of underdevelopment.

 According to Bondo Sub-County Beach Management Unit (BMU) Network Chairman Johannes Gaunye, this denies the lobby revenue.

 “The sale of fish in undesignated beaches does not only deny our beaches commission but also a big loss to boat owners,” explained Gaunye.

Usenge BMU Vice-chairman John Ochieng said that they charge Sh2 per kilo of fish that lands at the beach.

 “This is the money that we use to pay watchmen, cleaners and fuel our patrol boat. We also pay for other services like electricity,” said Mr Ochieng, noting that the daily collection is unpredictable, as it depends on the day’s catch.

Dwindled drastically

 He said Usenge is one of the biggest beaches on Lake Victoria and, therefore, serves as a collection centre for other areas.

“We are not able to undertake development projects on our beaches. We rely on county government-funded projects, which sometimes take too long.”

 With about 200 boats landing at Kuoyo beach in Mageta Island, the BMU expects to raise at least Sh5,000 daily, but this has not been possible.

 According to Kuoyo BMU Secretary Alfred Ogutu, some of the day’s collection goes to paying for private security since local authorities do not provide any.

“We spend at least Sh20,000 on a single night patrol. If we were to depend on the Sh5 that we get from a kilo of fish, it is not sustainable,” he said.

 At Asembo Bay, which was once a vibrant fish trading hub for Gem, Ugenya, Alego and Seme residents, things are not any different.

 Three decades after the Indians, who owned almost all the shops on the beach departed,the area’s economic fortunes have dwindled drastically. 

 “There were some locals who were not happy with the Indians dominating businesses at the centre,” explained Erick Okoth, a resident. 

The ripple effect has spread to other neighbouring centres, such as Yala, Ukwala, Siaya and Sega and Kamito.

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