Once safe haven, Lake Victoria islands now heave under weight of criminals
By Isaiah Gwengi and James Omoro
| August 25th 2018
It is dusk and ordinary workers and traders are returning to their homes after a day's toil. But for a 32-year-old Christine Achieng, the day is just starting.
The sounds of Ohangla music emanating from drinking dens and the voices of drunkards give one a feel of a boisterous nightlife in Mageta Island.
In a radius of only 20 meters, there are about three bars, liquor shops and video show halls, complete with music.
Shops, kiosks and hawkers that sell cigarettes, sweets and light foods are abuzz with activity, complementing the beer-stocked bars and video show halls.
Off the main shore, there are several dingy single-room lodges with creaking beds, a sight of empty condom packages filling the dustbins and noises coming from the rooms that leave little to imagination.
Mingling with the fishermen and traders in the bustling beach town are criminals who are using the dingy mabati rented rooms as hide outs. Mageta is among the many islands and beaches on Lake Victoria teeming with criminals, running away from the police.
From Oyamo in Bondo to Ringiti and Remba in Homa Bay and Migingo in Migori, Lake Victoria islands have become paradise for criminals.
Some of those using the many beaches as hide outs include robbers on the run, murderers, rapists and those who have jumped bail in various courts across the country.
At Mageta, residents told the Standard of the growing insecurity because of the many strangers docking at the Island, almost on a daily basis.
“This place is no longer safe. We would leave our motorbike outside because nobody would steal them. But today, you cannot dare because criminals are beginning to get into the island,” Achieng says.
Every day, the island receives at least three visitors who come to fish or tour, while criminals come to use the island as a hideout.
With a spectacular landscape and a population of about 7,000 people from all over East Africa, Mageta Island is fast becoming an undisputed haven for criminals, runaway convicts, smugglers and pirates.
There are only four Police officers running a patrol base on the island, but according to area Chief Mr Ambrose Ogema, they are overwhelmed by the emerging cases of criminal activities.
“We are always forced to complement the four police officers in patrolling the entire island,” says Ogema.
A police officer, who sought anonymity told The Sunday Standard that they are equally not safe.
"We cannot claim to be providing for security for the people living in the island, yet we are most insecure. The patrol base does not have a fence and people walk in and out even in the middle of the night and you cannot know their intentions," he said.
Criminals have taken advantage of the island being far from the mainland and the lapse in policing
On these islands, residents hardly sleep. If they are not fishing, they are in drinking dens or gambling.
He adds that smuggling and crime are slowly beginning to overshadow fishing activities.
“Most of these islands have become hiding places for criminals running away from justice,” says Ogema.
He adds that most of the fishermen come to the beaches and change their names. They start using nicknames. This, Ogema says becomes a security threat when they commit crime or die.
Another disadvantage for the islanders is insufficient amenities. Injustices are often not reported due to inaccessibility of the areas.
Residents in Sifu Island, for example, say there is a growing number of illicit sexual relations between young girls, divorced women, and the criminals whose identities were not known.
Because of the confusion, break down of law and order and long distance from the mainland, it is difficult for police to get criminals hiding on the islands.
Unlike Mageta, Ndeda and Oyamo islands have no police officers. The nearest police post is in Nango, which is in the mainland.
"Even though there are no police officers in the two islands, cases of conflicts and crimes are few. The island is generally peaceful," says Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda
The Standard traveled to the island following a public outcry that the government had turned a blind eye on the security of the islanders.
“We have been ensuring that anybody who comes to the island as a fisherman must register with the Beach Management Unit (BMU) before he could be allowed to operate in the island,” says Samwel Juma, an official at Mahanga Beach.
He however says that those who come by public transport boats are not required to register with the BMU.
He adds that poor road network is also a security challenge in the island, with motorbikes being the common and convenient means of transport.
Michael Opondo, a resident of Lolwe Island however says that the issue of identification or registration before starting to operate or live in the island does not make sense.
“Those people who come to the island are just like those who travel to Nairobi or other towns to look for a job but we have never heard them being asked IDs,” says Opondo.
The story is the same in the small but overpopulated islands of Migingo in Migori, Ringiti, Remba, Kiwa in Takawiri in Homa Bay. These islands have for many years been a haven and perfect hide out for criminals running away from justice.
On these bustling beaches, one finds Ugandans, Kenyans, Congolese, Somalis and even Nigerians, most of whom rent the small tin houses and engage in small time businesses to hide their identities.
Migingo Island Beach Management Unit Secretary Juma Mbaya confirmed that the islands are used as hideouts by criminals but quickly adds that it was difficult to identify them.
“We cannot easily investigate newcomers’ criminal records because the law accords them freedom of movement. We can only know that some is a criminal if they are followed by authorities,” said Mbaya.
On Ringiti Island, a youth disappeared into the darkness after the beach officials questioned his identity. It later emerged he was a bank robber on the run.
Another man identified as Onyango went to the island as a fisherman end of last year. But area residents were surprised when police who had been trailing him from Nairobi got hold of him for allegedly stealing of Sh200, 000 from the city.
The islands are also a haven for men who have elope with other people's wives. Bony Sidika, a fisherman at Kiwa Island said they had handled many such cases.
“We recently handled a case of a lady who was snatched from her husband in Ndhiwa Sub County. We had to hand her back to the real husband,” said Sidika.
He argues that the hardship involved in accessing the islands encourage people who have committed crime to hide on them.
“We have also had cases where suspects released on bond abscond court proceedings by hiding on the islands,” said Sidika.
Homa Bay County Commissioner Irungu Macharia confirmed that the islands had been classified as hide outs for criminals and were being put under security surveillance.
“We have information that the islands are used as hideouts of by people who come from various countries,” said Macharia.
The Commissioner said they had put community policing measures to curb the trend.
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