Why Ringiti Island is no longer at ease — PHOTOS - Daily Nation

Life at Ringiti Island that is caught in Kenya, Uganda border row

Sunday June 17 2018

Ringiti Island

Residents of Ringiti Island say territorial wars pitting Ugandan security officers and Kenyan fishermen are threatening to disturb the peace they have enjoyed for years. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BARACK ODUOR
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The territorial wars pitting Kenyan fishermen and Ugandan security officials in Lake Victoria is a growing headache for the East African Community.

The constant arrest and detention of Kenyan fishermen by Ugandan security officials is threatening the prosperity of the union formed to spearhead joint interests of the three states.

Ringiti Island

A fishmonger arranges her smoked fish at Ringiti Island of Lake Victoria. Fish business is flourishing in the island, fuelling conflict between Kenyan fishermen and Ugandan security officials. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

In Ringiti, a small rocky island in Lake Victoria, nationals of the three neighbouring countries live in harmony and often wonder why the territorial conflict exists.

When the Nation visited the island, Ugandans were preparing their boats for a night fishing expedition night and for transportation of Nile perch to their country. Kenyan fishermen were resting after a night of casting nets and loading fish while Tanzanian traders were in their shops.

Lake Victoria, Ringiti Island

Fishermen in a fishing expedition near Ringiti Island of Lake Victoria. Areas around the lake are rich with Nile perch. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

In the makeshift bars, Ugandan women have taken lead in selling beverages to the islanders after long tiresome hours in the turbulent waters.

At Ringiti Primary School, which is located in the island's highest point, children play and often cross the school boundaries to wander in the rocky beaches.

Ringiti Island

Children from parents of different nationalities play in Ringiti Island of Lake Victoria unperturbed by the simmering conflict pitting Kenyan fishermen with Uganda security officers. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

It is difficult to know that the children have parents who are Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians if the conflict pitting the countries over the vast waters is anything to go by.

Ringiti is next to Remba Island, and is 3km away from Kenya-Uganda border in the lake.

Ringiti Island

Fish scales drying on a boat at Ringiti Island of Lake Victoria. The lucrative fish trade in the island is the reason for conflict between Kenyan fishermen and Ugandan security officials. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Joseph Odera, a Kenyan trader at the island for 10 years, says the territorial waters are threatening the unity that the nationals of the three countries have been enjoying in the tiny island.

"I have been selling beverages in the island for 10 years. Business has been good but now our stability is threatened by tensions arising from conflicts between Kenyan fishermen and Ugandan security officials," says Odera.

Lake Victoria, Ringiti Island

Ringiti Island in Lake Victoria as seen from the lake. The rocky island comprising of makeshift structures is known for lucrative fish trade. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

George Omondi, another Kenyan fisherman says they have lived in the island as brothers as sisters because everyone is minding his or her own business, but the absence of peace is worrying them.

"We do not have problems with Ugandans or Tanzanians since they are like our brothers and sisters. We just want the governments to end this conflict threatening our stay in this island," says Omondi.

Ringiti Island

Mr George Omondi, a Kenyan fisherman in Ringiti Island of Lake Victoria, narrates his ordeal at the hands of Ugandan security officers. Fishermen in the island want governments of the two countries to end the conflict. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mariam Musonya, a Ugandan bar owner says her business is no longer flourishing because of uncertainty among fishermen in the island.

"I am no longer selling many crates of beer the way I used to because fishermen return empty-handed from their expedition because their nets and fish have been confiscated," says Musonya.

Lake Victoria, border row, Ringiti Island

Ringiti Island residents have urged Kenya and Uganda governments to resolve the Lake Victoria border row saying the tensions have hit hard their businesses. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Lake Victoria Beach Management Units Association Chairperson has pleaded with the EAC governments to find a lasting solution to the impasse.

"Fishermen and traders in Lake Victoria are feeling neglected by their governments because of unending territorial wars. This should come to an end," says Guda.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni have in the past pledged to promote peaceful coexistence among nationals of the two states.

Ringiti Island, Lake Victoria, fishermen

A bird scavenges for fish on the shores of Lake Victoria in Ringiti Island. The little rocky island is known for lucrative fish business. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Recently, they launched the Busia One-Stop Border post to enhance efficiency at the Kenya-Uganda border.

The border post combined the traditional two stops into one faster processing in bid to speed up integration of the two neighbours.

Ringiti Island

A trader goes about his business in Ringiti Island on Lake Victoria. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR| NATION MEDIA GROUP

It is meant to improve efficiency in immigration clearance and ease the movement of goods and people.

Earlier this year, the East African Legislative Assembly announced it will adopt a different approach in resolving trade conflicts among member states by engaging directly with counties instead of the national governments.

The fish trade in Ringiti Island is thriving

The fish trade in Ringiti Island is thriving but has been a source of conflict pitting Kenyan fishermen and Ugandan security officers. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Eala, for instance, wants to iron out differences pitting Kenya against Uganda over Lake Victoria fishing grounds as well as the frosty ties between Kenya and Tanzania.

Newly-elected Eala members promised to work with local authorities to resolve border rows that have threatened integration over the years.

Ringiti Island, Lake Victoria

Kenya-Uganda border row has been simmering for quite sometime now. Ugandan security officials routinely confiscate fishing gear of Kenyan fishermen. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mr Mathias Kasamba, Eala MP from Uganda and chairperson of the Northern Corridor project, said utilisation of resources and business in member countries would flourish through free flow of people.

Ringiti Island, border row, Lake Victoria

Pigs roam in Ringiti Island of Lake Victoria. Ugandan authorities on June 11, 2018 arrested three Kenyan security officers and six fishermen near Mageta and Hama Islands in Lake Victoria and taken to the neighbouring country by boat. They were later released. PHOTO | BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Last year, Kenya complained over Tanzania's decision to burn 6,400 imported chicks for fear of bird flu and auction of 130 cows belonging to Kenyan herders for trespass.

The 68,800km2 is the second largest fresh water body in the world. It is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and is viewed as a binding factor. It is a source of livelihood for close to 30 million people.