A fresh diplomatic row broke out between Kenya and Uganda on Tuesday after President Museveni claimed that the disputed Migingo Island “may be in Kenya, but its waters are in Uganda”.
The Kenya government reacted swiftly and angrily, terming the Ugandan leader’s remarks as “arrogant, unintelligent and callous”.
Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka said he was shocked to hear the “negative tribal language” President Museveni used against a community of a friendly country and asked him to spare Kenya such diplomatic spats.
“Our work has not been easy and for President Museveni to deal such a blow to efforts aimed at resolving the dispute, shows disregard for intelligence and good neighbourliness,” he said.
Speaking to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, President Museveni declared that the disputed Migingo Island is in Kenya but the water surrounding it belonged to his country.
The Ugandan Head of State said Kenyans will not be allowed to fish from the island that has been at the centre of a diplomatic row between the two countries.
“The island is in Kenya, the water is in Uganda. But the Wajaluos are mad, they want to fish here but this is Uganda... hii nchi huru (this is a sovereign country). It is written here in English... from this point, the border will continue to go in a straight line to the most northern point of Suba Island. Mpaka inazunguka kisiwa (the border surrounds the island)... one foot into the water and you’re in Uganda,” President Museveni said.
Unlike a month ago when he termed the row “shameful”, President Museveni seemed to be spoiling for a fight over the island. He indicated that the uprooting of the railway in Nairobi’s Kibera area would not bother him as long as he continued to bar Kenyans from fishing around the island.
He added: “So, I have been telling those Jaluos who were rioting... wanang’oa (uprooting) railway... see, I want to discuss with them... if we implement this hakuna mjaluo atavua samaki (no Luo will fish) in this water.”
President Museveni made the declaration only a day after a survey aimed at resolving the ownership of the one-acre rocky island was launched.
In a joint communiqué in Nairobi on Monday, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula and Uganda’s third Deputy Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja said the survey would put an end to the simmering row.
On Tuesday, Mr Wetang’ula told the BBC that President Museveni was confirming what Kenya has been saying all along. He added that as neighbours, Kenya and Uganda wanted to resolve the Migingo issue without confrontation.
“As a minister, I do not want to dwell on what President Museveni said or what he meant. We are doing a survey as agreed in order to solve the issue and Kenya and Uganda have a good relationship in the spirit of the East African Community,” Mr Wetang’ula said from Qatar.
During the press briefing in Nairobi, the leaders said that the project would take two months and would include the survey of the entire Kenya-Uganda border on Lake Victoria. The evaluation will be guided by a 1926 order in council, the 1963 Kenyan Constitution, the 1995 Ugandan Constitution and other relevant documents.
The survey team is led by Kenya’s director of Lands, Mr Ephantus Murage and his Ugandan counterpart, Mr Justin Buogi.
In Nairobi, MPs from the Nyanza region told off the Ugandan President, asking him to concentrate in affairs affecting his country. They also accused him of pre-empting the findings of the survey.
“Mr Museveni should know that Migingo Island and the water surrounding it belong to Kenya,” Nyatike MP Omondi Anyanga told journalists in Nairobi.
The MPs accused President Museveni of dealing with Kenya “aggressively” and asked him to instead focus on “leadership problems” facing his country.
Mr Onyonka, who spoke to the Nation on phone, fell short of asking President Museveni to apologise. “Our neighbours should be careful and stop such callous remarks which might cause tension and bad blood,” Mr Onyonka said.
He said nobody should comment about the boundaries until the survey is completed.