Lake rows far from over as policies clash - Daily Nation

Lake rows far from over as policies clash

Sunday June 17 2018

Lake Victoria

Residents and fishermen of Nambo Beach in Usenge Siaya County protest against harassment in Lake Victoria hours after some fishermen were abducted together with three police officers by the Uganda authorities in Lake Victoria. PHOTO | RUSHDIE OUDIA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The fight for fishing rights in Lake Victoria may be a battle between conservation and rogue security agents.

On Tuesday, Kenyan and Ugandan security agents detained one another’s nationals in a crackdown on trespassing. But the arrest of Kenyan Administration Police officers by the Ugandan soldiers is only a pointer to a bigger problem.

Interviews with fishermen and officials from both sides of the border show the operations and programmes meant to guard against exploitation of fish are in conflict, providing a loophole to security officers to extort fishermen.

Mr Tom Guda, the chairman of the Lake Victoria Beach Management Units Association, the lobby that defends fishermen’s rights, told the Sunday Nation arbitrary arrests by Ugandans are a result of uncoordinated policy.

“The UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Forces) and the Ugandan Government have completely misunderstood conservation. In fact, this is an act of aggression,” he argued on Saturday.

“We do not have any visible demarcations in the lake. But that is not important because this is a shared ecosystem. What needs to be done is a common licensing system, which will allow fishermen to fish according to their terms,” he said.


On Monday night, Ugandan Special Forces Command soldiers arrested three APs and six fishermen for trespassing. The officers were disarmed and detained in the neighbouring country. They were released a day later, following protests. The fishermen are, however, still in custody in Uganda.

The incident was not the first one. In the past six months, fishermen say they routinely get detained and their catch confiscated for trespassing.

“As fishermen, we have spoken to the government enough times. There exists a regional body (the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation) to handle the conservation of fish in the lake, but this has been abandoned,” Mr Guda added, referring to the East African Community’s specialised agency  to coordinate fisheries policies among member states.

On Saturday, Ugandan fishermen also said they have been harassed by Kenyan security officers, discouraging investment in fishing.


Mr Robert Bakaaki, the head of the Ugandan fishermen’s lobby, told the Nation the delayed licensing of his members had offered an opportunity for Kenyan security agencies to harass them.

“We appreciate the intention to conserve fish from authorities. But there are incidents of harassment and bullying. There has been illegal impounding of fish, when, say, a fisherman is caught with a portion of fish that is not allowed. The security officers often take away everything,” he said.

In Uganda, the government withdrew the police from the lake and deployed the Special Forces Command, a unit of the UPDF, in what President Yoweri Museveni argued was to improve efficiency in conservation.

In addition, the Ugandan Government announced plans to create a database of fishermen who should get regular licences. The Ugandan lobby, however, argues that the project has been slow, exposing them to exploitation by security officers guarding the lake.

“If a system has been delayed in Uganda alone, we fear a combined one will be even worse. I would support it if it were efficient but that hasn’t been the case so far,” added Mr Bakaaki.


The two lobbies agreed Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have to invest in marking boundaries and demarcating them. This has not happened. Kenya and Uganda have previously bickered over the Migingo Island. Later, they agreed on  a joint survey, but the results were shelved, with the two sides agreeing on joint policing of the lake.

However, fishermen claim the cooperation fell apart largely because of disagreement on how to work or where to guard. With reduced funding for Ugandan security, fishermen claim it has created room for extortion.

“There are no clear demarcations. For Kenyans, it is common for them to cross because their size of water is small. But this can be helped with coordinated regulations,” added Mr Bakaaki.

In June 2016, the EAC for example, launched the Lake Victoria Fisheries Management Plan III (FMP III) 2016-2020 in Arusha, Tanzania, meant to help the precious Nile Perch recover from dwindling numbers, as well as sustain the resources in the lake.

Authorities now say they are returning to the negotiating table by next week to end perennial tiff within Lake Victoria.


Uganda, which owns 45 per cent of the lake, deployed the military to stop illegal fishing. Some of the forces are stationed on the controversial Migingo Island, claimed by both Kenya and Uganda.

In 2016, Kenya enacted the Fisheries Management Development Act, which allows the country to deploy security forces against illegal fishing in its waters, as well as establish conservation plans.

Authorities now say they are returning to the negotiating table by next week to end perennial tiff within Lake Victoria.

Busia County Commissioner Michael Ole Tialal said the meeting aims at discussing coordinated conservation and regulation of fishing.

“We will discuss what actually happened on the ground during the arrest of the three officers and the six fishermen. We have so many issues in the lake that we need to resolve since they have the potential of straining the relationship between the two countries,” he said.

He said officials from both countries had agreed to have a joint survey of the lake to establish a clear boundary. The meeting will also discuss implementation of a joint patrol of the lake.

Busia Uganda District Resident Commissioner Hussein Matanda warned that fishermen who will be caught using illegal fishing gear will be dealt with accordingly.