By Onghwens Kisangala
There is a bilateral dispute over the territorial positioning of Migingo Island. Kenya and Uganda are claiming the tiny rocky hill. Mr Patrick Ochieng, MP for Bukhooli South where the island currently falls, talked to The Independents Onghwens Kisangala about how it all started.
You are the area MP, what do you know about Migingo island?
This is a place where I have lived and grown up. Migingo is an old Luo name for an abandoned place. Bukooli South is part of Bugiri district, three quarters of which is Lake Victoria water. The main land is just a quarter of the whole district. In Lake Victoria, there are about 12 islands but about 9 are inhabited, Migingo inclusive. In Migingo area there are three islands, all called Migingo. But they have different shapes. There is a very interesting one called Pyramid.
Of the three Migingo islands, which one is where and owned by whom?
There is an island in the shape of a pyramid, another in the shape of a triangle and the other is a rock, all of them called Migingo. There is one where you see a prism (pyramid shape) if you look at it from any side. Thatâ€™s the Kenyan Migingo Island. According to both the constitutions of Uganda and Kenya, the boundary passes at the most-westerly part of the Pyramid Island and leaves the other two Migingos in Uganda. In this area, there are 11 other islands all in Uganda. The problem with the Migingo in dispute is that it is far from the rest of the other Ugandan islands and close to the Kenyan Migingo Pyramid Island. These islands were not inhabited until mid 1990s when different people started settling there.
How did Ugandans start living in these empty islands?
What took us to Migingo is our boys who used to go fishing there in-between Migingo and the other islands. Because of the methods of fishing- by hooks and gill-nets where you just throw them in water and come back the following day to check what has been caught- pirates used to come mainly from Tanzania to steal our boysâ€™ catch. But because Tanzania is very far from this area, they would not do that in one go. So they are the ones who first settled in this area as a sojourn for their piracy. When that practice intensified and Kenyans were fearing to settle on the island because they knew it was Ugandan, we decided to occupy it.
Wasnt it a big hurdle to displace the Tanzanians?
Noâ€¦ We first took there police officers. We mobilised Local Defence Units. The first LDUs we sent had instructions to stay there because they could not keep moving to and fro everyday. It is a long distance and it would be risky. When the public realised that the LDUs were there, they said let us also go there.
How come Ugandans were reluctant to settle in what was their own until LDUs went there?
This island was not really clearly visible because even as we speak today, the highest point above the water level is not more than 5 to 10 metres high and that is with the receding water level today. I imagine that at some point it was a small simple rock. That is probably why they did not use it as a reference point at mapping.
How did Kenyans who at first feared to settle on the island become the dominant settlers?
For Ugandans, the issue of living on water given the vast land we have here was not really a priority. We had enough land to live on.Â By the way more than half of the inland of Bugiri district is not 30 years old. I was born in 1973 and we were among the first people to settle in that area where we are today. You would walk for 30km to find the immediate neighbour. Tsetse flies disorganised settlements there in the mid 1940s.
The Google Earth map published by The Independent in March (Issue 50) showed Migingo in Uganda. But the latest map from the same Google Earth shows different things?
I donâ€™t know what authority gave Google this map, but the equipment that were used at that time are not the same being used today. To believe that this Google equipment might be the correct one may not be accurate. All these equipments have resolutions (allowable error). The best ones have 0.05% accuracy standards but this percent is a big resolution that you need to be very careful about.
If both Ugandans and Kenyans around these islands knew that Migingo is Ugandan, why the fighting?
I can assure you that todays inhabitants and all those who have been on these islands including the neighbours of Migori in Kenya know that this island is in Uganda. The hullabaloo is just by a few elite leaders in Nairobi inciting their ignorant citizens. Not even in Kisumu!
Why are Kenyans in Kibera uprooting railway slippers and threatening to block Ugandan goods from Mombasa?
They have no authority to do that. That will just be suicide on their side. They cannot condemn the whole Great Lakes Region just for their selfishness. We have set up a commission with engineers who will iron out this matter. Let me assume they are not talking about re-division of the islands. If it is just proving on which side the island lies, that is not a problem. Any other action is something the Kenyans will have to rethink. But the serious Kenyans will not allow such things to happen.
Why do you think Kenyan politicians seem not to have no confidence in this commission?
I dont think they dont have confidence as such. It is just a few who had made unfounded utterances that are finding it so hard to swallow their pride and tell the public that they are sorry.