, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 28 – Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo has recommended a collaborative approach in the supervision of waters surrounding the controversial Migingo island, a 2,000 square-metre isle in Lake Victoria that has been at the centre of a decade-long row over fishing rights between Kenya and Uganda.
Omamo who was speaking during a session on maritime safety, security and regulatory enforcement at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference on Wednesday blamed the dispute to what she termed as misconstrued thinking.
She said Lake Victoria should be managed as a collective water resource, an approach that will put to rest the unending battle for lucrative fishing rights between fishing communities in Kenya and Uganda.
“The question of Migingo Island is a problem of surveying the area and it is also a problem of mentality. We should be asking ourselves, ‘how are we going to look at our internal water bodies as a collective asset’,” Omamo stated.
“Once we begin to look at our internal water bodies as collective sources of wealth then we can use different approaches to superintendent those water bodies,” she said.
According to Omamo, authorities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania should focus on accreditation of fishermen operating in Lake Victoria to ensure sustainable use of fish in the lake.
“We in the East African Community need to use our internal waters for the benefit of our communities by organising our fishermen better so that we get a win-win situation,” she said.
The dispute between Kenya and Uganda over Migingo first emerged in 2008-09 when the landlocked nation challenged Kenya’s ownership claim.
A subsequent survey to ascertain the geographical location of the isle found Migingo to be within 500 meters of the Kenyan side of the border with Uganda prompting a change of narrative by the Ugandan government, President Yoweri Museveni acknowledging that whereas the island was Kenya’s, most of the waters surrounding it were Ugandan.
Ugandan authorities have in the recent past arrested dozens of Kenyan fishermen over claims of encroachment and the use of prohibited fishing nets.
The tussle for fishing rights around the Migingo Island has further been escalated by the existence of breeding grounds for the Nile Perch, a lucrative fresh water fish species.
Ugandan police officers patrolling Lake Victoria have been accused of targeting Kenya fishermen who are often arrested and detained in Ugandan islands within the lake.
On November 5 for instance, over 17 fishermen were held in Riabana and Kalangala islands in Uganda after reportedly being seized while fishing in waters near Remba Island on the Kenya side of the lake.
In September, Uganda police held six fishermen after they failed to pay a Sh100,000 fine each for allegedly trespassing on Ugandan waters.
The arrest and subsequent arrests of the fishermen was heavily criticised by local leaders, with Migori Governor Okoth Obado threatening to “deal with President Museveni” had security been a devolved function.
While responding to concerns of harassment of fishermen, Defence CS Omamo urged for the synchronisation of efforts in the fight against illegal fishing and over-exploitation of maritime resources.
“We need to have a convergence of interests to deal with illegal and unreported fishing. Our interests at the moment are divergent,” she observed.
Omamo also challenged sea-facing countries to adopt a collaborative approach to combat maritime crime particularly in the western Indian Ocean.
“We must try and find where our interests converge on issues of illegal fishing, human trafficking, and piracy so that we recalibrate our thinking and bring together key institutional mechanisms so that we’re able to bring our aspirations to fruition,” she observed.
Omamo termed the recent establishment of the Coast Guard Service in Kenya as a critical step in securing maritime resources within the country’s territorial waters.
“I’m glad that in Kenya we’re trying to build a Coast Guard that has a multi-agency, multi-sectoral structure. I hope that we succeed in this so that the example can be replicated in the region,” she said.