Revelations that some Kenyan fishermen are still being held in Uganda a year later for fishing on lake victoria is disturbing.
The arbitrary arrests and harassment by the Ugandan authorities has been going on for some time.
Those arrested, with charges ranging from trespassing into Ugandan waters to using illegal fishing gear, are often forced to sell livestock to buy their freedom or forego their nets and boats.
Tales of torture at the hands of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces are widespread, from being forced to eat raw fish to merciless caning. There are instances where some of those arrested have been released following negotiations between local leaders, national government administrators, police and beach management officials.
But a lasting solution has proved elusive leaving Kenyan fishermen at the mercy of the Ugandan authorities. The situation has not been helped by the unresolved issue of the ownership of Migingo Island.
While it is important for the three East African countries to fight illegal fishing in the lake, it should be done within the spirit of the East African Community. Kenyan Government must fully engage Uganda and Tanzania to address challenges facing fishermen at Lake Victoria.
Fish is a renewable resource and one of the national resources that can rejuvenate the economy of the east African countries, hence it should be protected.
As they seek a lasting solution, the three countries should move to harmonise their positions on issues affecting fishing on the lake. The boats used by the fishermen could also be registered for easy identification and breeding areas gazetted.
But whatever the case Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania must show the true spirit of the EAC anthem, ‘Wimbo wa Jumuiya Afrika Mashariki’ that exhorts East Africans to pursue the virtues of unity, patriotism and hard work while cultivating a spirit of comradeship.
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