"Mr President, Migingo is gone," The Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister is purported to have told the president. Migingo is a tiny rocky island inhabited by fishing communities whose population totals less than 1,000 people. Migingo, drawing inhabitants from across East Africa, is located 5.4 nautical miles (10km) off Kenya’s Sori -Bay in Karungu division, Migori district. Kenyans have taken their close proximity to the island as an implication of ownership. On the other hand, Ugandan authorities say the island falls within the boundaries of its eastern district of Bugiri. Indeed the Google earth map clearly indicates Migingo islands are located within Uganda boundaries. The Google earth coordinates for the island are 2°48’06.82”S and 32°38’45.25”E. Google earth offers maps and satellite images of pinpointed or complex regions (Editor's note: due to The Gumboot's tight budget, we only have the these two pictures).
Migingo was not known to East Africans until a few months ago when Kenyan fishermen living in the island started complaining about harassment from their Ugandan counterparts. Harassment was emanating from fellow fishermen and local authorities who demanded Kenyans to pay taxes for fishing in or near Ugandan waters.
This simple disagreement has attracted ministers, presidents and international organizations to resolve the dispute. Immediately after Kenyan fishermen complained of harassment, Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister put together a delegation of ministers to meet their counterparts from Uganda. They agreed that the Ugandan flag erected on the Island should be pulled down and all military personnel from Uganda to be withdrawn from the Island. That did not happen.
The Kenyan police commissioner flew to Uganda to further discuss the unfolding Migingo saga, but the meeting didn't reall go anywhere. Uganda actually increased the number of military police in the island! To keep Kenyans hopeful of peaceful resolutions, it was declared that President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and President Kaguta Yoweri Museveni of Uganda would meet to discuss the Island saga during the COMESA meeting in Lusaka. The meeting took place, but none of the heads of state gave clear direction about the ownership of the Island.
People from both countries have made wild allegations about the Island. Some claim that Oil has been discovered around the island and some Arabic countries have initiated separate negotiations with both countries to start exploiting the resource - or at least exploring the area to see if the rumours are viable. Others claim that it is payback by Kenyan President to his Ugandan counterpart after the supposed millitary support he offered him during the disputed 2007 elections. It is also claimed that it is a plot by one faction of Kenya's coalition government to make Kenyans realize how indecisive the current president truly is.
It is important to note that Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator who ruled during the 1970s, attempted to snatch several Islands and regions from Kenya but was stopped by the decisive and authoritive president who ruled Kenya at that time by daring him to make a move. The current Ugandan president has been accused of harbouring ‘expansionist ambitions’ and it is alleged that he is ready to snatch the Island rich in Nile perch fish.
Kenyans became impatient with the leadership and decided to claim the Island in support of their fellow countrymen living there. Habitants of Kibera the biggest slum in Africa uprooted a railway line that transports valuables to Uganda. Those living next to the border stopped all cargo lorries from transporting anything from Kenya to Uganda and vice versa. This grassroots, people driven action has lead to a peaceful agreement after both sides decided to spend two months carrying out a survey that will establish the real ownersship of the island. They will also use colonial maps from the UK.
The Ugandan flag has then pulled down and both sides have agreed on a joint security force to provide security in the Island until a permanent solution is found.
I am mostly interested in how the story has unfolded from mere fishermen fighting for their livelihood to the point that politicians, police commissioners, government spokespersons, and presidents have been attracted to this curious situation. I foresee organization of African Union and international criminal court joining in the fray to arbitrate if the survey does not offer a lasting solution. Or else it will be ... military against military ... over Migingo Island!
Martin Muli (our man in Nairobi)