Uhuru’s silence on Migingo row baffling

Sunday March 27 2016

Migingo Island as it stands in the middle of Lake Victoria. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Migingo Island as it stands in the middle of Lake Victoria. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NICHOLAS GUMBO

On February 11, 2013, Mr Linus Kaikai, while moderating the Presidential Debate, put the following question to all the candidates: Is Migingo in Kenya or Uganda; and what do you intend to do to assure the people of Migingo that they are part of Kenya, if elected?

Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, the Jubilee candidate, said: “Migingo is in Kenya. But there exists a dispute as a result of not having clear maps registered at the UN. We should embark on an exercise that ensures that we demarcate all our borders and get these fully registered. I don’t think it is a subject to go to war over. Through negotiations with our neighbours, that issue can be resolved. But, in the longer term, what needs to be done is to ensure all our boundaries are properly mapped out and registered ...”

Whereas Mr Kenyatta the Presidential Candidate was very clear on who owns this tiny island, and even clearer on the road-map for resolving the territorial dispute, there hardly exists any record of Mr Kenyatta the President having uttered the word “Migingo” in all the three years he has been in power.

Was that eloquence of February 11, 2013 a mere campaign gimmick? Those directly affected by this matter have been completely baffled by the silence.

Thus, when President Kenyatta met President Museveni in Nairobi on March 21, this year, more than three years after the bold pronouncements, the issue of Migingo was expected to appear as an agenda item alongside discussions on the major crude oil pipeline to be constructed by Kenya and Uganda.

But alas! Migingo must have been of such little economic significance that not a word of it found its way into the discussions.

Yet this meeting was coming hardly a fortnight after Kenya’s public servants and security forces had been attacked and publicly humiliated by Ugandan security forces on the island.

Both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Kibaki before him don’t seem to have fully grasped the emotiveness of the issue. Every time Migingo has come up for debate, supporters of the Government’s position have been quick to point out that the economic stakes between Kenya and Uganda are far too high to be jeopardised by a “mere piece of rock”.

ROGUE NEIGHBOUR

Yet for those directly affected, the matter is too complex to be reduced to a discussion about shillings and sense. Migingo is an attack on the pride of a community, the pride of a nation. Indeed, it is an attack on our standing as a regional super-power.

As leaders from the lake region, every discussion on Migingo with our electorate only helps to expose us as a helpless lot completely unable to do anything to recover the pride and beliefs of a community unfairly snatched by a rogue neighbour who seems to care nothing about good neighbourliness.

It is probable that from the safety of Nairobi, or Ichaweri, Mr Kenyatta is far too removed from the underlying issues about this small island to fully appreciate the helplessness of the leaders who can only lament with an electorate persistently crying out for a lasting solution.

Curiously, both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Museveni acknowledge that Migingo belongs to Kenya. Why then does it not bother our President that Kenyans are routinely harassed by Ugandans in their own country? Could this be a false vindication of Mr Museveni’s sarcastic remarks a few years ago to the effect that Migingo is only a Luo problem and not a Kenyan problem?

What other reason would there be for the unbelievable apathy demonstrated by the government over the years in resolving this issue? From a Jubilee-dominated Committee of Parliament, to functionaries within the Executive, the government clearly has no desire to resolve the Migingo issue.

More often than not, the government assigns only junior officers to discuss the matter of Migingo. And every time such discussions take place, we get treated to stale platitudes such as: Kenya and Uganda have a lot in common culturally and economically; Kenya and Uganda share many historical ties; Kenya and Uganda cannot go to war over a mere piece of rock; the matter of Migingo has to be resolved through diplomacy.

Yet the so-called “diplomatic solutions” are half-hearted, tame efforts which are clearly not intended to offer a permanent solution.

For example, while (on paper) Kenya and Uganda have agreed on joint policing of the island, in truth there is hardly any Kenyan security on the island.

Mr Gumbo is the MP for Rarieda constituency. [email protected]