Migingo is one of three small islands in the eastern waters of Lake Victoria measuring approximately two thousand square metres
Migingo is one of three small islands in the eastern waters of Lake Victoria measuring approximately two thousand square metres.
Until 2001 it was uninhabited, when local fishermen began using the island as an offshore weigh station.
Their earnings became three to four times what shore-based fisherman were earning a month, and Migingo became known as the ideal geographic location to hunt Nile perch.
Known locally as Mbuta, Nile perch is a devastating piscavore believed to have been introduced into Lake Victoria by Uganda in the 1950s, though it has high economic value as a much sought-after produce for European restaurants and markets worldwide.
From 2001 the islet became a micro slum inhabited by hundreds of fishermen, pirates and smugglers.
Both Uganda and Kenya began competing claims over ownership of the island, with debate fuelled by the imbalance in the Nile perch trade: Kenya owns 6% of Lake Victoria but dominates perch trade, whilst Uganda’s 43% ownership of the lake yields them less than half of Kenya’s catch.
The discovery of commercially viable oil deposits across the East African Rift System and the potential for an oil find to straddle the contested demarcation line complicates the matter further.
Despite bilateral and multilateral discussion, several aggressive encounters between Kenyan police and Ugandan marines have threatened an outbreak of violence.
Furthermore, in 2011 Kenyan rioters blocked Uganda’s rail link to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, in turn affecting the commercial interests of Burundi, Rwanda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The dispute over the island reflects wider issues of ethnicity, nationality and politics, as well as competition over resources.
Furthermore, it exemplifies the lingering impact of uti possidetis, a principle of international law which states that newly independent sovereign states must retain the borders of their preceding dependent area.
This reinforces the reshaping of the region’s landscape committed during British imperial rule and is seen as an important building block of the state system, emphasising stability and finality of territory.
Such a legal presumption following decolonisation holds little regard for human geographies or realities, leading to disputes between Uganda and Kenya over where the border’s demarcation was drawn.
Depending on where the line legally exists, much of the Kenyan Nile perch catch may come from illegal fishing activity in Ugandan waters.
A managed solution of each country’s fishing rights in the area would require involvement from Tanzania, as another owner of Lake Victoria territory, and cooperation, which is severely lacking between the two countries.
Any decision on catchment would affect the livelihoods of 30 million people and could involve the international organisations, East African Community institutions, and the countries of Rwanda and Burundi, who currently promote sustainable development and environmental understanding of Lake Victoria’s catchment region.
This piece is based on an original article written by Christopher R. Rossi of the University of Iowa, published in The Conversation.