Thursday, April 16, 2009



April 16, 2009
By Standard Team

The dispute over Migingo Island threatened to balloon into a regional security issue as youths in Nairobi’s Kibera slums uprooted a railway line linking the two countries to protest at continued occupation of the island by Ugandan soldiers.

Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua announced yesterday Kenya and Uganda would hold a joint Press conference today to explain "what is really happening at Migingo Island".

However, the Ugandan authorities jumped the gun by declaring Migingo their territory, according to a statement posted on the Uganda government website. "The Government of Uganda has proposed that to resolve this matter, a comprehensive survey be undertaken by the two countries," said the statement from spokesman Fred Opolot.

Youths stand next to the railway line that was uprooted at Katwekera in Kibera slums, Nairobi, Wednesday. [PHOTO: JONAH Onyango/STANDARD]

Mr Opolot added: "Until such survey findings are published, the status quo shall be maintained and Uganda shall continue to administer Migingo Island."

Opolot said the survey should use as a guideline the boundaries set by Kenya Colony and Protectorate (Boundaries) Order in Council, 1926.

In Nairobi, seven MPs petitioned President Kibaki to declare Uganda "a hostile neighbour" and forcefully take control of Migingo Island.

Led by Mr Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda), the MPs demanded that the Navy and Army be sent to the island.

"Uganda is no longer a friend. It has invaded our land and it is time we acted to protect our sovereignty," said Gumbo.

The MPs insisted it was unacceptable for the Government to continue treating Uganda in with kid gloves under the guise of the East African Co-operation spirit. Addressing a Press conference at Parliament Buildings in Nairobi yesterday, the MPs accused President Kibaki of "taking the Migingo invasion lightly".

The MPs, from Nyanza and Western provinces, warned that the Government’s indecisiveness could eventually see Uganda claim more Kenyan land.

But the anarchy in Kibera had echoes of post-election violence last year when youths protesting against the election outcome uprooted the railway line to disrupt business between Kenya and Uganda.

Congratulated Kibaki

At that stage, the Ugandan leader had congratulated President Kibaki over his re-election. The sabotage of commuter and goods train services was widely seen as an attempt to undermine the Ugandan economy that heavily relies on the Mombasa port.

More than 200 youths engaged the police in running battles and later uprooted several metres of the railway line in Katwekera.

The youths, armed with stones and all manner of weapons, broke into a jubilant dance when they tore the line. This disabled the rail service and was only restored last year at a cost of Sh20 million.

Yesterday, the youths were emphatic. One shouted: "Because the Government has failed to help our brothers in Migingo, we will do it in the manner Ugandans understand best." Police said they watched from a distance after learning some youths were armed. Further, they had been ordered not to use live bullets on the protestors.

The railway line is crucial in transportation of goods from Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi and DRC Congo.

Yesterday’s chaos at Kibera erupted when police and Kenya Power Company attempted to disconnect illegal electricity connections.

The power disconnection exercise sparked chaos when the youths opposed to the move clashed with police. They then turned their anger on the railway line as they sang in protest: "No Migingo, No Railway line! Museveni must go!"

Earlier, the rowdy youths had chased away policemen and journalists from the scene.

They said they feared journalists would take their pictures and publish them, which could be used by the police to arrest them.

"Ugandans need to know we feed them. They should not try to intimidate the hand that feeds them," a youth said.

By last evening, police were yet to access the area and those on patrol called for reinforcement.

Local administrators were stoned and chased from the site.

One person was seriously injured in the melee and taken to hospital. Public transport was paralysed as protestors lit bonfires and barricaded roads.