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President Uhuru Kenyatta’s silence on Migingo Island unacceptable

COMMENTARY
By Nicholas Gumbo | March 28th 2016

On February 11, 2013, Linus Kaikai, while moderating the Presidential Debate, asked Presidential Candidates whether Migingo Island was in Kenya or Uganda. Uhuru Kenyatta, then a candidate for the Jubilee Alliance, said Migingo was in Kenya.

Whereas Uhuru Kenyatta the Presidential candidate was very clear on who owns Migingo, there hardly exists any record of Uhuru Kenyatta the President having uttered the word “Migingo” in all the three years he has been President.

Thus, when President Kenyatta met President Museveni in Nairobi last week, we believed the issue of Migingo Island would appear as an agenda item alongside discussions on the major crude oil pipeline to be constructed by Kenya and Uganda. But alas!

Migingo must have been of such a little economic significance to the President, not a word of it found its way into the discussions. Yet this meeting was coming hardly a fortnight after Kenya’s public servants and security forces had been attacked and publicly humiliated by Ugandan security forces in the island.

Both Mr Kenyatta, and Mwai Kibaki before him, don’t seem to have fully grasped the emotiveness of the Migingo issue. Every time Migingo has come up for public debate, supporters of the Government position have been quick to point out that the economic stakes between Kenya and Uganda are far too high to be jeopardised by a “mere piece of rock”. Yet for those of us directly affected by Migingo, the matter is too complex to be reduced to a discussion about shillings and cents.

Migingo is an attack on the pride of a community, the pride of a nation. Indeed Migingo is an attack on our standing as a regional super-power. As leaders from the Lake Region, every discussion on Migingo with our electorate only helps to expose us as a helpless and impotent lot completely unable to do anything to recover the pride and beliefs of a community unfairly snatched by a rogue neighbour who seems to care nothing about good neighbourliness.

It is probable that from the safety of Nairobi, or Ichaweri, Uhuru Kenyatta is far too removed from the underlying issues about this small Island to fully appreciate the helplessness of the leaders who can only lament with an electorate persistently crying out for a lasting solution.

Curiously, both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Museveni actually acknowledge Migingo belongs to Kenya. Why then does it not bother our President at all that Kenyans are routinely harassed and humiliated by Ugandans in their own country?

More often than not, the government only assigns junior officers to discuss the matter of Migingo. And every time such discussions take place, we get treated to stale platitudes such as: Kenya and Uganda have a lot in common culturally and economically; Kenya and Uganda share many historical ties; Kenya and Uganda cannot go to war over a mere piece of rock; the matter of Migingo has to be resolved through diplomacy.

Yet the so-called “diplomatic solutions” are half-hearted, tame efforts which are clearly not intended to offer a permanent solution. For example, while (on paper) Kenya and Uganda have agreed on joint policing of the island pending a resolution of the disputed border, in truth there is hardly any Kenyan security in the island worth talking about.

Uganda police routinely harass and humiliate Kenyans, including the thin police deployment on the island, almost at will and with the least of provocations; Uganda’s flag is almost always hoisted on the island; Uganda has a near-permanent military police detachment deployed in the island which exorbitantly taxes Kenyans for nearly all activities and services.

No one is advocating a military solution to the Migingo problem. A military solution is not even necessary if Kenya really wanted to resolve this problem. Yet to say that Kenya cannot go to war over “a mere piece or rock” is to attempt to invert history.

History is replete with bizarre wars that have been fought over much more mundane issues such as disputes over who owns a wooden bucket (Modena and Bologna); wars fought to soothe personal egos (Paraguay against the combined forces of Argentina/Brazil and Uruguay in 1864); the shooting of a stray dog (Greece and Bulgaria in 1925); the so-called Pork and Beans War of 1838 between Britain and America; war between Britain and America over shooting of a pig; or indeed a war fought over a football match, as happened between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. But war with Uganda over Migingo need not be an alternative if Kenya meaningfully and whole-heartedly pursued a solution to this unending dispute.

For a country which is the undisputed giant in East Africa, this attitude by Kenya towards the invasion of its territory by a foreign force is very strange indeed.

In 2012, I wrote an article in the local dailies which largely bemoaned the waning dominance of Kenya in East Africa. In the article, I pointed out that at the current rate, we will soon be overtaken by Tanzania as the largest economy in East Africa.

Our diminishing role in East Africa, whether in sports, politics, diplomacy, or economics should be a major concern for our country’s leadership. This should call for total re-engineering of our ways of doing things.

By seeming to pursue personal interests and self-preservation at the expense of the larger national interests, Uhuru Kenyatta may be unwittingly, but quite actively, participating in ceding Kenya’s dominance in East Africa.

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