By ELISHA OTIENO
Ugandan security forces have brought all fishing activities on Migingo Island to a standstill, apparently after receiving reports that their Kenyan counterparts were planning to hoist their flag on the disputed, rocky island.
On Thursday, they patrolled the island in combat gear and shot in the air, forcing Kenyan traders and fishermen to remain indoors.
The Special Forces emptied their armoury by arming themselves with their guns and strapping belts of ammunition around their necks and chests, turning the island into a war zone as folks there remained indoors.
This was just hours after they pulled down a Kenyan flag that was hoisted on Wednesday and removed the flag post.
“The situation is bad … gunshots everywhere. The Ugandans received information that Kenya was sending many security officers today, which turned out to be false,” said Mr John Obunge, the chairman of the Migingo Beach Management Unit.
The Kenyan security officers stayed put in their camp.
“They are shooting in the air, apparently to forestall a plan that was not there in the first place. We don’t know why they are wasting their ammunition,” said a Kenyan officer who requested anonymity.
Migori County police boss Joseph Nthenge said they were “keenly monitoring the situation” but “there is no cause for alarm”.
UGANDA FLAG ONLY
Although the island is jointly manned by Kenyan and Ugandan security forces, only the Ugandan flag is allowed to fly.
The decision to jointly police the island was reached between Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni as part of efforts to reach a legal solution to the island’s ownership.
In the latest conflict, Kenyan security forces backed down after the Ugandan officers warned against hoisting a Kenyan flag again.
But Kenyan fishermen taunted the Ugandans for disrespecting their government.
“They warned the Kenyan police officers never to do such a thing again,” said Mr Obunge.
“Our officers argued that the flag must always be hoisted at a police post, like the one that has been set up in Migingo, but the Ugandans would not listen to them,” he added.
The Ugandan forces are outnumber the Kenyans.
Last week, Nyatike MP Tom Mboya Odege accused the national government of continuously paying lip service in the Migingo ownership row.
He said the dispute over the island has dragged on since 2004 and that the government “appears not interested in resolving this matter permanently”.
Later in August 2016, Kenyan Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet and his then Ugandan Counterpart Kale Kayihura held a historic security meeting on the island to cement the joint policing.
“It is sad that arbitrary arrests and intimidation continues to be visited on the Kenyan fishermen in Lake Victoria despite persistent calls from leaders and fishermen to have the matter resolved,” said Mr Odege.
The MP noted that the former President Mwai Kibaki’s administration failed to conclude the matter and that “it appears President Uhuru Kenyatta may also exit office in 2022 before putting this dispute to rest”.
“ The Ugandan security forces continue to arrest our people who are doing business on the fish-rich island. President Kenyatta must revisit this matter with his Ugandan counterpart because he swore to protect all the Kenyan boundaries in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.”
Senate Minority Leader James Orengo said the Migingo row should be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for arbitration as “we cannot forever talk about the Migingo dispute”.
“I am asking President Uhuru Kenyatta and my boss (Raila Odinga) to consider taking this matter to the International Court of Justice to resolve this matter to stop the suffering of our fishermen in Lake Victoria,” Mr Orengosaid in Migori County.
The Siaya Senator said all colonial maps show that the island is in Kenya.
“The dispute has become an embarrassment to us so we must sort it now, using the goodwill created by the handshake between our two top leaders,” noted the Siaya Senator.
He said the international court has in the past handled territorial disputes of similar nature between other countries.
The Ugandans recently arrested six Kenyan fishermen and detained the for days at Vuvumai in Uganda over alleged trespass.
They victims — Jacob Ogweno, Nelly Ochieng, Michael Supi, Frankline Ochieng, Odhiambo Nyundo and Kosu Orifa, were set free after paying Sh30,000 fines each.
Mr Zadock Kawa, who is chairman of the Nyangwena Beach Management Unit in Migori County, said they were apprehended for allegedly fishing in Uganda’s waters.
Among the six fishermen was Frankline, a form four student of Kibuon Secondary School.