Sunday, March 29, 2009

Migingo now a different kettle of fish

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula (right) watches as Lands Minister James Orengo (centre) argues with an official from Uganda (left) who had accused him of inciting the public in his address at Migingo island.  Photo/FILE

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula (right) watches as Lands Minister James Orengo (centre) argues with an official from Uganda (left) who had accused him of inciting the public in his address at Migingo island. Photo/File 

By DANIEL OTIENO and ELISHA OTIENO

A visit to Migingo Island — now at the centre of a diplomatic row between Kenya and Uganda — reveals just how much wealth, an acre of land can hold.

And the contrasts it has in store.

As some residents — 80 per cent Kenyan — play pool at the East African Pub, others are out fishing. The waters surrounding the island are known to be lucrative fishing grounds for Nile perch and tilapia.

On their return, the Ugandans collect revenue and subject the Kenyan fishermen to harassment.

But last Friday, the fishing boats in Migingo never went out to sail. They stayed put, with the hope that a solution to the ownership dispute would be found.

Ugandan soldiers

Hundreds of residents, comprising mainly fisherfolk and Ugandan soldiers camouflaged in civilian clothes, stayed by the waters, looking to the approaching speed boats at the horizon, hoping that the ministers from Kenya and Uganda arriving would tell them once and for all, who owns the island.

It was optimism that was already boiling into excitement. A drunk man went and demolished the makeshift jail that the Ugandans had built to detain law breakers. Unknown to him then, that frustration will stay with him for some time.

A Ugandan flag, troops and fish — that is what is now causing a diplomatic spat.

Ministers from both Kenya and Uganda went on a diplomatic mission aboard MV Ushuru. But when they landed on the island after the discussions, it turned out to be a public confrontation.

Kenya was led by ministers Moses Wetang’ula (Foreign Affairs), James Orengo (Lands), Paul Otuoma (Fisheries) and Internal Security assistant minister Orwa Ojodeh.

Uganda was represented by Kirunda Kijejinja (Third Deputy Premier and minister for Internal Affairs), Sam Kutesa (Foreign Affairs), Asuman Kyinji (Lands) and Fred Mukisa (Fisheries).

Early this month, a Kenyan delegation led by Mr Wetang’ula met their Ugandan counterparts in Munyonyo, Kampala to resolve the issue.

The meeting came up with the resolution that both countries allow the fishermen to continue conducting business as usual until the boundary was determined by experts.

It was also agreed that Uganda withdraws the 48 troops deployed on the rocky patch above lake, as nobody was interested in going to war.

That appeared to have taken place, until the same soldiers started going back, this time in civilian clothes, a position which angered Kenyans.

Kenya called for the meeting last Friday, which Mr Wetang’ula said was to iron issues of “non-compliance with the agreements”, which were to stay for the 60 days, during which experts would determine the true position of the island.

Uganda’s deputy premier Mr Kivejinja said although he had been sent by Uganda to negotiate with Kenya, he could not make any decision and had to go back to Kampala, and consult.

This prompted the Kenyan delegation to question the commitment of her East Africa Community partner to the resolution of the raw. The Kenyans, led by Mr Wetang’ula, maintained that a time line must be given for the resolution of contentious issues.

Kenya demanded that the Ugandan flag be brought down with immediate effect, but the Ugandans maintained that it was not part of the Munyonyo agreement.

Mr Ojodeh said: “Our team to Kampala did not think about the flag. As long as it remains flying there, it means Kenya is talking about Uganda’s territory.”

But Mr Kivejinja stood his ground saying: “We saw the Ugandan flag flying here but bringing it down was not part of the Munyonyo agreement so let us go back and consult.”

And feeling cornered by the Kenyan ministers, Mr Kijejinja turned his anger at the media who he accused of peddling rumours.

Mr Ojodeh said: “It’s like Uganda wants the island by force. Why do they waste out time attending talks whose decisions they cannot follow? They should come out and tell us their motive so that we face it appropriately.”

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