Migingo is an islet in Lake Victoria, half the size of a football field. It sits atop the lake’s most fertile fishing ground and serves as a strategic offshore port straddling the water border between Uganda and Kenya.
Fish processors in Kisumu and Nairobi have planted their buying agents on the island who deliver fish to the waiting trucks on the mainland beaches.
“Most of the waters near Kenyan beaches are breeding grounds of Nile Perch species,” a fisheries official - who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the Migingo row - said.
Daily fishing landings on Migingo are estimated to be worth about Sh1 million ($100,000), being brought in by over 200 boats operating in the waters around the island.
Kenya and Uganda have been locked in a bitter ownership dispute of the Island since as early as 2000.
Uganda’s President President Yoweri Museveni at one time even alluded that though the island was in Kenya, the neighbouring waters were on the Ugandan side, much to the chagrin of Kenyan government. To date, the Kenyan government maintains that the Island belongs to Kenya.
On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma said they had signed an Memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Ugandan authorities to enable fishermen and other Lake Victoria users to access either side of the boundary.
What is left now is to set the modalities for access management and sharing of resources.
“Kenyans should know that these boundaries are shared by communities across the countries, and we have to find a way to make them soft,” said the CS.
“My message to Kenyans is that we have their interests at the top of our minds and this can be realised by reducing the risks they face in accessing the trans-boundary resources,” she added.
Asked whether the agreement will define where the island legally belongs, Ms Juma said:
“Kenyans must know the territorial integrity of the country will never be negotiated away.”
However, despite the CS words, Ugandan police forces have been accused of terrorising Kenyans residing in the Island on numerous occasions.
Uganda officials even tax fishermen and businessmen operating their businesses in the island.