Monday, May 18, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
May 18, 2009

Peter Katuuliba and Barbara her sister have been my friends for many years since our meeting at the University of Nairobi. They are Ugandans. Even though they live in different parts of the world, I still cherish our years of friendship whenever we bump into each other in the Diaspora.

Years later, I met very fine Ugandans such as Jimmi Kiberu, John Kato and Ezra Bunyenyeezi who, for all purposes consider Kenya as their second home.

My years as the East African newspaper project manager brought me even closer to many Ugandan brothers the same way I cultivated more friendships with Tanzanians. It will be difficult to destroy these wonderful relationships because some politicians on both sides have told us to do so.

As I drove across the Kenya Uganda border at Busia many times those years, I was amazed at the number of cyclists crisscrossing the border with all manner of consumables, clothes and electronics. These were ordinary Kenyans and Ugandans doing business together and actualizing their East African integration as politicians were still busy biting their nails over fish, water and little islands on Lake Victoria.

The reason why our political leadership in both countries should not fool us into fighting one another is because they have betrayed our trust many times over. They have taxed us to maintain expensive institutions such as the East African Community Secretariat, the East African Legislative Assembly and the East African Court of Justice when in fact all along they knew that these institutions would be useless if their political schemes were under threat.

The same leaders have paid lip service to the East African political integration for 20 years now since they signed the Second Treaty in 1999. And as they drive us to the edge of conflict over Migingo Island, some signatories to the treaty have since left the scene; an indication that the present players had rather play tin-gods and preserve what is in their best interests back home.

The tragedy is that if this Migingo thing is not sorted out fast and amicably, East Africa will witness the worst humanitarian catastrophe never witnessed before in the last 40 years, because, unlike in the past when Kenya was the last refuge for fleeing victims of war in the region; it will this time be consumed by the same civil strife. If this happens, business will completely grind to a halt in Kenya right from the port of Mombasa and spread all the way to Kinshasa, Mwanza, Bujumbura, Juba and Kigali.

The truth is, when war breaks out; and wars never break out due to major issues. It is the little silly issues such as fish and water around Migingo Island that normally light the fires that eventually consume everybody.

Kenyan and Ugandan leaders must bring back sanity into our politics. As we beat the drums of war on both sides, let us look at Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq where collateral damage has mainly targeted unarmed helpless civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly.

In a war situation, the elite, especially the war mongers and their families are the most protected from the line of fire. More often than not, they ship their families out to Europe and America before they light fires at home. If you doubt me, find out how Thabo Mbeki found himself in Europe and remained there for two decades as the war raged in South Africa.

My question to President Museveni and President Kibaki is this: Why do we have this dispute in the first place? Why, as leaders are we talking this carelessly? Is Migingo big enough to derail the East African dream? How can we squabble over Migingo and yet spend billions of shillings building t East African infrastructures and institutions? Why do we have the Lake Victoria Basin Commission if we can still go ahead and squabble over a one acre Island? What is the point of having an East African Legislative Assemble and the East African Court of Justice if as leaders we do not see the need to refer our disputes to them?

President Museveni, as far as I can remember since 1994, I and a group of Kenyans visited your office when we were planning to start the East African newspaper. Back then, you gave me this good feeling that you were the most pro- East African integration among all the sitting presidents then. At that time, you repeatedly wondered aloud why there were borders between East African states in the first place. Your subsequent statements for the next 15 years did not disappoint even as late as 2007 when we were concluding the campaign for fast-tracking political integration. What happened along the way?

Let Migingo not ruin what has taken years to rebuild.