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Fishermen protest as Tanzanian authorities seize boats

Fishermen prepare their fishing nets at Sori beach on August 29, 2019. They have complained of frequent harassment from the Lake by Tanzanian authorities. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Tanzanian authorities have seized seven boats from Kenyan fishermen over alleged territorial trespass in Lake Victoria.  

The fishermen who hail from Muhuru Bay in Migori County were arrested on Saturday night while on a fishing expedition at the Lake.

Sources said the fishermen were apprehended for allegedly trespassing into Tanzania water but they were released on the protest but the boats were seized.

On Monday, Muhuru Bay Beach Management Unit officials protested the confiscation of boats and fishing gears.

The BMU officials were Mark Maloba(Nyora-Kabuto), Maxwell Ogolla(Sori), John Obunge(Migingo), Shaddock Meshack,(Nyangwena). 

''We are asking Kenyan authorities to help our fishermen, we can’t continue to do business in the Lake with fear. No,'' said Maloba.

Speaking to the press in Migori, the fishermen led by Hevron Mahira from Muhuru bay and Thomas Akungo of Kaler ward decried the arbitrary arrests terming them unfair.

''Why do these people continue to harass and intimidate our fishermen. If it's not Uganda, then it is Tanzania. We are tired of the harassment,'' said Mahira.

Akungo said the fishermen had sought their intervention, hence their decision to draft a joint petition.

The leaders now want the National Government to intervene especially the Ministry of East African Cooperation to resolve the recurring territorial woes.

Mahira and Akungo disclosed that they now want to petition the East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala).

Already, the two MCAs have drafted a petition which they will first present to Migori County Assembly and then to National Parliament and finally Eala.

''We are going to table a petition in Migori County Assembly when the House resumes from recess,'' said Mahira.

Then petition will also be channeled through the National Parliament to Eala so that the regional leadership can decide on how to end Lake territorial dispute.

Parts of the petition, include a measure to issue a common license for fishermen, relaxing fishing rules and delineation of the boundaries. 

The leaders claimed that such arbitrary harassment would undermine the spirit of the much-hyped regional integration. 

Kenya has only a 6 percent share of the surface water in the lake, Uganda with 43 percent and Tanzania 51 percent.

But as things stand, most fishermen drawn from the three basin countries that share the lake- have no idea where officially marked artificial boundaries are.

Nyatike OCPD Stella Too, said she was yet to establish the boats that were seized and where they are and help the affected fishermen where appropriate.

''Give us time to reach out to the affected fishermen and authorities and revert in due course of the week,'' she said

The MCAs are however not the first people to protest at the move and to draft a petition to Eala.

Nyatike MP Tom Odege and Bondo's Gideon Ochanda also want Eala, to remove artificial boundaries in Lake Victoria shared by Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania

Already, Ochanda disclosed he has filed the petition to the EALA Speaker Mr Martin Ngoga from Rwanda so that it can be discussed

The legislator claimed in the spirit of the East African Community bloc it was not logical to limit the usage of the natural resources which they share.

''We cannot say that we are committed to regional integration and yet we still fight,'' Ochanda said

The MPs’ petition demands that Lake Victoria be recognised as an international water body, bound by international pacts.

''We want Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania who share the lake to set aside about 10 or 10 nautical miles from the lake as buffer zones,” the MP told the Standard. 

He said that would enable countries that share the lake to only have access to about 10 or 12 nautical miles from the offshore of the lake or landing beaches.

They said such was the reason why fishermen faced arrests and harassment by Ugandan or Tanzania marine police patrolling the Lake both day and night.

The MP said it was not good for East Africans to witness ceaseless harassment more so at a time when the process to move toward EAC bloc is ongoing.

''There is no boundary visible to point in the Lake. This is why we want to have a border-less fishing spree,'' claimed Ochanda.

Over the years, Kenyan fishermen have never had a rosy affair while on a fishing expedition in the Lake.

Lake Victoria is also an inland water transport linkage for the three East African states.

But Kenyan fishermen have in the past been arrested and prosecuted in Uganda for allegedly trespassing into the Ugandan waters.

Although Kenya has declared Migingo Island is in her territory, Uganda continues to police the island through the military and marine police.

Today, Odege asked the authorities to resolve the controversial Migingo island issue in the common interest of all. He backed Ochanda

Kenya exports fuel products, machinery, chemicals, metals, minerals, footwear, textiles, hides, and plastic products to Uganda sometimes via the Lake.

Kenyan fishermen and traders have suffered a myriad of challenges, including complaints of unfair competition currently posed by fish imports from China.

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