Wednesday, February 25, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
February 24, 2009

Now we know; the stupidity of our political leaders is beyond redemption in this part of Africa. Now we know; the talk of East African integration is a mere pipe dream if our leaders can be so silly as to bicker over a one acre piece of rock! Migingo Island in Lake Victoria is living testimony that we have a deranged political leadership in our countries.

I am a Kenyan from the Lake Region. I was born and brought up near Lake Victoria but I have never been to Migingo Island. However, all I know is that many poor and hardly literate Kenyan fishermen have born the brunt of Ugandan soldiers on that Island. They get arrested and detained from time to time for either living on the island or fishing around it “illegally.”

I would like to believe that these so called Ugandan soldiers are mere pirates out to extort whatever they can from these poor fishermen and that they are not there on orders from their Commander-in- Chief, President Yoweri Museveni! Should it turn out that indeed they are there with Museveni’s knowledge; it would be a most unfortunate thing for this region.

Now Kenya has finally raised its voice in its National Assembly to clearly state that Migingo Island, formerly known as Ogingo Island has been part of Kenyan territory since 1949. Ugandans, more specifically, Ugandan armed forces think otherwise.

So, what happens? Are the two countries that are members of the East African Community about to go to war over this one acre piece of earth? If this happens; if we can fight over land as small as this, how then will we implement the Common Market protocols that will guarantee East Africans settlement, business and homes anywhere in the region? If Ugandan soldiers are still obsessed with Migingo enclave, arresting Kenyan “foreigners” for trespassing at a time when negotiations for the Common Market are advancing, how will they handle an influx of Rwandese, Burundians and Tanzanians when the Common Market protocols are signed?

I do not have all the facts but this much I know; that Uganda can ill afford to go to war with Kenya over Migingo Island. It will be the most foolish thing to do; more foolish than Idi Amin’s buffoonery in the 1970s when he claimed parts of Kenyan and Tanzanian territories. When he tried to annex the Kagera salient, he stepped on Julius Nyerere’s sore toe and Mwalimu went ballistic. The dictator was sent packing in a matter of days.

Uganda needs Kenya as much as Kenya needs Uganda for basic economic survival. Uganda is one of Kenya’ biggest export markets while Kenya provides Uganda with an economic lifeline to the sea port of Mombasa.

It is true in the worst case scenario; especially in situations of war, Uganda would probably reroute her cargo to Dar es Salaam at probably a higher price.

But again, before that route becomes functional, many Ugandans, Rwandese, Burundians and Congolese will have suffered as a result of this reckless and unnecessary conflict. More than that; the moment there is a conflict between two member states of the EAC, the entire Community will be destabilized with dire consequences for everybody including Ugandans and Kenyans. In this scenario, the biggest casualty will be the fragile East African Community. It will die a second death with no prospect of resurrecting in a hundred years.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, word is in the air that there is a Kenyan delegation preparing to go to Uganda for talks. Is this really the wise thing to do? Don’t we have a Peace, Security and Conflict Resolution department within the East African Community to deal with this issue? How come we are not hearing any moves by the current EAC Chairman, Paul Kagame talking or convening an emergency Summit to resolve the issue? How come other heads of State like Jakaya Kikwete and his Burundian counterpart are silent? Are they waiting for the war to break out first before they intervene?

Any outright hostility between Kenya and Uganda will make thousands of innocent people doing business or working in both countries suffer unnecessarily. There will be an influx of refugees in all directions. Even countries not directly in conflict will get hit equally hard. The repurcations will be felt as far as Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Kivu, Kigali, Bujumbura and Dar es Salaam. It will be a human catastrophe. We ordinary East Africans must stop our reckless political leaders from driving us into this meaningless conflict!