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The Odd and Controversial Fishing Island of Migingo

The Odd and Controversial Fishing Island of Migingo

Inka Piegsa

It’s hard to believe that a piece of land that barely covers half an acre would be a topic of much dispute, but Migingo Island, a tiny fishing island in Lake Victoria in eastern Africa, does just that. Both Kenya and Uganda have claimed it is within their own territory, which causes a lot of tension, especially between the fishermen from each country who believe they have the right to use it to fish.

Most, if not all, maps will show that the island is just barely within the Kenyan border, but Ugandan fishermen are adamant that they deserve the right to fish there, especially since Ugandan waters come within nearly 500 meters of the island. It’s just a blip on a map, but it causes quite the uproar.

The reason many fishermen so desperately want the right to fish on Migingo Island is that the surrounding waters are rich in Nile perch, which is very valuable in the area. The dispute began in 2009 when pirates began stealing fish, money, and boat engines from the fishermen.

Police from both countries began to inhabit the island to attend to the situation, and the Ugandan officers eventually started demanding that Kenyans living on the island purchase a special permit to fish there. The conflict even escalated to the point of gunfire.

Ugandan officers had impounded two Kenyan fishing boats, claiming they were robbed from Ugandan fishermen. When Kenyan fishermen and police officers followed the Ugandan officers into Ugandan waters to try and stop them from taking the boats, a shootout ensued. Nobody was hurt, but the conflict was still alarming.

Later on, both sides finally struck a deal that allows Kenyan fishermen to operate on Ugandan waters and Ugandan officials to access food and medical supplies on the Kenyan mainland. They have also created a neutral Beach Management Unit made up of officials from both Kenya and Uganda to manage conflicts on the island, rather than having police officers from each country trying to impose their own rules.

It should be noted, however, that agreements made in the past have not been honored, and further agreements would probably need to be reached in order to resolve the dispute completely.

Despite the tiny size of Migingo Island, as many as 131 people live on it crammed into small huts that cover basically the entire surface. There are even a number of bars and brothels, a beauty salon, and a pharmacy available to the inhabitants of the island. Although it often leads to conflicts, the people living on Migingo Island certainly make the most of what it has to offer.

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