Enough is enough, protect Kenyan fishermen

Fishermen from Lake Naivasha collect some of the abandoned nets which have choked the water body killing hundreds of fish and affecting navigation exercise. [ Antony Gitonga, Standard]

There are real signs of an ineffective government, and failure to protect citizens is topmost among them. It is disconcerting when a country boasts vibrant institutions but fails to look after basic safety and security of its people. Citizens are the most primed resource.    

An expressway, a thriving port, a modern railway and name it, may be nothing to write home about when citizens live at the mercy of alien rogues in the marketplace.

I am taking about the situation at Migingo Island on Lake Victoria. While the issue is nothing new, last week’s capture of Kenyan fishermen taken to Uganda and forced by their abductors to feed on raw fish is the height of insolence.

The many horrid tales of fishermen in the island speak volumes. Not that authorities are unaware; they are more aware than you could possibly imagine. But why would fishermen be soft targets in a bout between two countries?

Kenya has repeatedly insisted Migingo Island is within its territory. The big question is why Ugandan agents would stray to harass the local fisher folk. They are hunted down in the high seas, tortured, forced to go without food and water then made to face trumped-up charges – all happening under our nose. We respond with a lackadaisical attitude.

I have previously said in this column that East African Community (EAC) must translate into concrete benefits for all citizens. We’ve seen countries auction animals from across the border. Truck drivers have suffered at the hands of police in neighbouring countries and petty trade wars over eggs and milk.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni should tell us what is in it about this Migingo spat that started years back and peaked in 2004 but no one wants to boldly confront. Nothing seems to have moved since April 2019 when the government said boundary demarcation would be done in two months drawing from a 1926 colonial accord. Apparently, the two months are yet to lapse!

The two nations then signed an MoU to clarify the boundaries around the fish-rich one-acre island and allow more border points for legal crossings and to guide the sharing of Lake Victoria resources.

With such an agreement, it baffles why Kenyan fishermen would suffer gross abuses when their Ugandan colleagues are basking in the glory of their government’s protection all day and night. Are our fishermen children of a lesser god?    

Boundary disputes can cause distress to countries due to their longevity. In Morocco in February 2017, I covered the signing of a special agreement referring a 40-year old dispute over oil-rich islands in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa to the International Court of Justice, which is the UN’s main judicial organ.

At the event, President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and his Gabonese counterpart Bongo Ondimba admitted that the dispute, dating back to 1972, had considerably jolted diplomatic relations between the two neighbours.

Observers hailed the signing of the agreement which was a culmination of winding negotiations that lasted decades. It was a demonstration of political willingness which seem to be in short supply in the Migingo case.

Border tiffs can hurt investment decisions and lead to bad political and economic exclusion. We are not sitting pretty. I foresee a complicated strain from the Migingo case.

Uganda is Kenya’s number one export destination in Africa at 28.6 per cent of our exports on the continent. We can’t afford to a strained relationship and bullying of innocent citizens. Quick fixes will not help. Most importantly, the Kenyan government must protect citizens at all costs.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo