Kenya and Uganda will carry out a boundary survey and demarcation as part of efforts to resolve the Migingo Island dispute.
Foreign Affairs minister Monica Juma said the project, to be undertaken following an Memorandum of Understanding with Kampala, was part of a wider programme to improve relations between communities living on Kenya’s border with other countries.
Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni reached an understanding when the latter toured Kenya on a state visit.
Both sides will appoint experts on a joint survey team.
The Kenyatta-Museveni MoU seeks to clarify the border, create more points for legal crossings as well as provide guidelines on sharing resources, the Cabinet Secretary said on Thursday.
A similar arrangement was reached with Ethiopia and Tanzania, where border communities have experienced disputes over pasture and land.
“We are thinking about facilitating the interface between communities that are cross-border. There is even a motion around soft borders to facilitate trade between cross-border communities. We have families and interests across the borders," she said.
With hotspots in Migingo Island, Moyale, Turkana and parts of Kajiado, the government said part of the proposal was to reach an agreement where local border communities are allowed relaxed movement with their animals as well as trade.
The East African Community has allowed free movement of people but there have been non-tariffs barriers by Tanzania and frequent arrests of Kenyan fishers on Migingo Island.
And although Ethiopia and Kenya have a similar arrangement on movement, border communities have carried out raids.
But the key focus of the programme could be the long running Migingo Island dispute.
Dr Juma said the two countries would create a joint team which would demarcate the border between them, running for about 800 kilometres.
“It is a technical process. Does it mean we are going to begin renegotiating boundaries? No. That is not what it means. Our commitment is to respect the boundaries inherited at independence. That is an immutable starting point,” Dr Juma told a press conference in Nairobi.
“What we are talking about is really to re-clarify the boundaries so that people don’t claim what is not theirs either by omission or commission.”
The dispute over Migingo Island in Lake Victoria has dragged on for 15 years. The one-acre island, close to Kenya in Migori County, is rich in fish.
Uganda lays claim to the island and deployed security officers ostensibly to fight pirates who were terrorising fishing communities.
Nairobi has largely swept the matter under the carpet even after President Museveni claimed that the water around the island belonged to Kampala and the island to Kenya; meaning the fish belonged to Uganda.
In 2010, during the Mwai Kibaki era, both sides agreed on a joint survey and demarcation. A joint team camped on the island for a month, seeking to determine the boundary and whether the island was indeed in Uganda.
The team cost Sh140 million. The group read colonial maps, the basis for Kenya’s claim to the island, GPRS location of Migingo, and did actual measurements. It concluded that the island and water around it belonged to Kenya.
But Uganda pulled the plug on the survey and its report was not published.
The matter remained unresolved. In 2018, Kampala deployed the Special Forces Command to the island in what President Museveni said was to protect the exploitation of fish and guard against unregulated fishing in the lake.
Dr Juma said Kenya will not cede any part of its territory, adding that the surveys are meant to ensure neighbouring governments are clear on common boundaries.
“During the visit of President Museveni we executed a number of instruments, in particular an MoU to undertake the execution of delimitation and demarcation of the entire Kenya-Uganda border to open up new border points.
"We agreed to engage in an effort to create a framework for managing, accessing and exploiting shared trans-boundary initiatives,” she said.