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Uganda not to blame for swelling lake, court told

By Anne Atieno | October 14th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300


A business premises marooned by water at Dunga beach in Kisumu. [File, Standard]

The East African Community (EAC) and Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) say there is no policy binding Uganda to release water into River Nile.

This is in response to a suit filed at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha, Tanzania, by five Kenyan lawyers seeking compensation from Uganda government over damages caused by the rising waters of Lake Victoria.

Two respondents

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The EAC and LVBC have been listed as respondents in the case.

Uganda is accused of failing to release water into River Nile, causing the overflow that led to damaging of property along the shores of the lake.

But EAC and LVBC want the court to make an order that in the absence of a binding Community Release Policy, there is no violation by Uganda of the letter and spirit of the treaty.

In their joint response filed by lawyer Benson Ochieng', they denied allegations by five Kenyan lawyers who sued them and Uganda over damages caused by Lake Victoria’s rising water levels that left hundreds displaced for months.

Former Kenya Law Society of Kenya President Isaac Okero and lawyers Geoffrey Yogo, Raymond Olendo, Jared Sala and Moses Omondi filed the suit on May 21 for themselves and on behalf of all other East Africans whose property was damaged by Lake Victoria’s rising waters.

In the suit drawn and filed by lawyer Ochieng’ Oduol, the applicants claim that by building Nalubale Dam (formerly Owen Falls Dam) at the mouth of River Nile, Uganda interfered with the natural flow of Lake Victoria’s waters leading to the backflow.

The lawyers claimed Uganda had been releasing less water than the agreed threshold.

They accused EAC of failing to ensure member States adhered to relevant treaties on managing the lake and the environment.

LVBC was accused of being unable to implement the Community Release Policy on account of objections taken by Uganda.

EAC and LVBC said the lawyers’ claims were generalities and unsubstantiated allegations that were not supported by scientific evidence as far as water levels and flows in and out of Lake Victoria and its management was concerned.

They further distanced themselves from the suit, saying they had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged damages and claims made by the lawyers.

The EAC secretary general and LVBC noted that it was illegal within the Kenyan law for anyone to carry out activities or development within the riparian land, hence the need to quit making claims on damages.

They also claimed that the treaties concerning Lake Victoria and the Nile waters and their input on the current legal policy were misunderstood by the lawyers.

In their supporting affidavit filed by LVBC Executive Secretary Ali Matano for both LVBC and EAC, they said there was nothing like ‘New Water Release and Abstraction Policy’ also referred to in the suit as the ‘Community Release Policy’ that is binding among the East African partner States.

Other factors

They denied allegations that the unprecedented rising waters of the lake was due to Uganda’s failure to release water, claiming that the occurrence could have been caused by complex climatic, geophysical and human factors.

“The complexity of the matter of unprecedented increase in the levels of water in Lake Victoria demands references to materials and sources of better scientific and intellectual accuracy other than online references and advocacy materials,” Matano stated in the affidavit.

They held that alleged tweets sent by Eskom Uganda Limited, if true, would vindicate Uganda as a responsible partner State of the EAC.

In the tweets that were highlighted by the lawyers in the suit, Eskom Uganda Limited posted on its handle on March 20 that it would be spilling more water due to the rising water levels in Lake Victoria.

On May 7, the water spilling was ongoing at 2,400 cubic metres per second for Nalubaale and Kiira Hydro Electric Power stations.

EAC and LVBC, through their advocate, want the court to determine that there is no policy binding Uganda to release water into River Nile within the treaty establishing the EAC.

They also want the court to make an order that in the absence of a binding Community Release Policy, there is no violation of the letter and spirit of the treaty by Uganda.

ake Victoria Basin Commission East African Community River Nile
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