Why the silence over territorial claims

August 4, 2009 12:00 am



The  silence  broken  by  the Kenyan leadership over  the territorial claims  by Uganda brings  to an end  frosty relations  between East African neighbours  and  overtakes  the  long awaited  report  of experts  on the  ownership  of the rocky island in  the  world’s   second largest fresh water Lake Victoria.

President Mwai Kibaki  announced  that Migingo  island – pronounced Mijinjo by  the invading forces – is part  of  Kenyan territory  contrary to earlier claims  by expansionist Ugandan President  Yoweri  Museveni. The surprise announcement  during Mr Kibaki’s  first  tour of  Nyanza province  since  his  controversial  re-election  was  seen as  a public relations exercise  to calm tempers  of residents  of the  area  where  Migingo falls.

In one of  the worst  aggressions  by a neighbour and a  partner in an economic bloc, (the  East African Community), Ugandan security  forces invaded the island, hoisted  a flag, chased away protesting   fishermen  and posted  administrators there. At the  height  of  a crisis, President  Museveni  retracted but said  that   ‘Kenya owns the  island  but the  water around  it belongs  to Uganda’.

Unlike his no-nonsense predecessors, President Kibaki ruled out the  use of force  to remove external aggressors and  an occupation  army  from the Kenyan  soil. Silence greeted the cries for military intervention. Instead, the Kenyan leadership offered to negotiate with the aggressors. As part of conflict resolution, the two counties named experts to conduct a survey of the area. Now that Mr Kibaki  has intervened, the  report may  not see the  light of day after  a  whooping Sh140 million  has  been spent on  the  exercise.

The  president had no choice  but to take a position  on the  territorial claims  ahead  of a   high level  East African Community  Investment Conference in Kenya  that  was to be attended  by no lesser titles  than  presidents of the  member States including Uganda.  The territorial claims could have clouded or derailed the conference chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.  Mr Museveni was conspicuously absent at the three day meeting where he could be discussed.

The Rwandan leader offered  to mediate in the  dispute characterized  by name calling, insults  and acrimonious exchanges reminiscent   to similar  verbal wars   between Kenya and Tanzania  that  culminated  in the  collapse  of the then   world’s  oldest  economic bloc, the  East African Community  in 1977.

In principle and in the spirit of good neighbourliness, territorial boundaries drawn by colonizers are not transferable or negotiable as the present day Kenyan leadership would like the rest of Kenyans to believe. Once sworn in, a leader defends the population of  his  country  against external aggression and threats  without  due consideration  to political support during elections. Nyanza voters did not vote for Kibaki in the last general elections.

The territorial claims were the second by a Ugandan leader. Dictator Idi Amin  claimed that  his  country’s  border  stretches  to Naivasha,  60 kilometers west of the  Kenyan capital, Nairobi. True to the oath of office, the late President Jomo Kenyatta hastily reacted to  Amin’s claims. Kenyans  declared  a war   that  was  never fought but  fought  a ten year  war  with Somalia over the latter’s  claims  of former  Northern Frontier  district renamed  Northeastern  province.
Although most African countries  abide  by the  Organisation of African Unity  (OAU) Charter on boundaries, few  have ignored  the principle  and  fought  some of the  bitter  wars  with neighbours and others  disintegrated. Eritrea is a case in  point. It was  carved out of Ethiopia  after a long drawn out war. Sudan is  awaiting  a referendum outcome on  the self determination of  Southern Sudan. Nigeria fought a border  war  with  Cameroun  and overran  the  secessionist Ibos rooting  for  their  territory called Biafra.

It is time the Kenyan leadership reacted decisively and promptly  against external threats and aggression from war torn neighbours.  Next  door Somalia is on fire  and the war there could  spill into the  Kenyan territory that has become  the  safe sanctuary for the  Somalis  fleeing the war and the pirates  said to  be hiding. The  country  is not prepared  to repulse  Muslim fundamentalists who may  choose to pursue  their  enemies  into  Kenya which  could  be  turned  into a  battlefield ground  of  foreigners.

(Joseph Kamotho is a  former  cabinet minister  and  secretary general of two  major political organizations including the  then governing party.   Kenya  African National Union ( KANU) email>  kamothojj @gmail.com)


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