Lake Victoria: The big lake shared between the three East African countries is a constant area of conflict.By Pr. Gilbert O. Ang’ienda
10. April 2005
During the early morning hours of August 7, 2003 , heavily armed Tanzanian marine police ambushed 50 Kenyan fishermen when they were casting their nets from the beaches close to the Tanzanian border. The fishermen, amongst them four standard six pupils, were arrested over alleged trespassing and spent a week in a foreign country, unsure of their fate.
At the same time 92 fishermen from Busia were arrested by Ugandan authorities and held at Jinja Prison.
The fishermen were all released after some days in jail, but the underlying conflicts remain over the use of the Lake Victoria resources.
Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake in Africa and the second largest in the world. Its 68,635 square kilometers is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Between the three East African countries Kenya hold the smallest portion (6%), but the most productive part of the lake in terms of fish breeding grounds and fish abundance.
The lake basin has a population of over 30 million people and a total gross economic product in the region of USD four billion. It is endowed with abundant fish resources providing the basin’s communities with a rich source of protein and employment opportunities and generating income to thousands directly.
But the common property of Lake Victoria is not only a source of prosperity. In recent years, tensions between the East African shareholders have lead to a series of conflicts over lake resources and fishing boundaries.
A cause of conflict is found in the poor ecological state of Lake Victoria . What was once an enormous freshwater resource with a vigorous fauna has been harmed due to over-fishing and pollution. The ecological damage inflicted on the Lake Victoria by different stakeholders has lead to a decline in fisheries and consequently an economical struggle over lake resources.
Among the conflict’s main players are the fishermen themselves. They have responded to the competitive situation with a greedy and unsustainable fish harvesting. This competition has brought about serious conflicts to the extent that members of the lake-communities have lost the long cherished interrelationships and entered into conflicts with local, regional and international implications.
As conflicts escalate over lake boundaries, regional instabilities will consequently weaken the status and role of the East Africa Community as the integration entity uniting the three lake-states.
The seriousness of the conflict and the media coverage it has received within the region has forced the East African Legislative Assembly to seek a solution to the conflicts.
It is apparent that the communities of the region want peace but the three governments need to supply the right guidance so that people can live peacefully next to each other around the lake. Therefore, it has been suggested that the governments should play the role of ombudsmen.
The fishermen, of whom many are illiterate, must constantly be informed of their responsibilities towards existing laws and policies and be helped to understand government mechanisms and procedures. Otherwise, we cannot expect them to follow the law.
Solutions to conflicts
The situation calls for the governments of the East African countries to resolve the conflicts over resources and find an end to the lake boundary crisis. Otherwise arrests and harassment of fishermen and unsustainable use of the lake resources will continue.
It is never easy to come up with solutions to complex problems. But a natural first step should be for the East African countries to exchange information on fisheries regulations and procedures and communicate them to fishing communities and other users. Thereafter the East African Community (EAC) must work towards uniform fishing regulations in the three countries.
Similarly important, border areas should be monitored by joint patrols comprising enforcement agencies from the region. The patrolling teams should wear identification tags when on duty.
Last but not least there is a dire need for education programmes for fishermen, as many of them are not aware of the policies. The fishermen must therefore be educated on laws governing the lake. Arresting and hauling them into jails will not solve the problems.
Pr. Gilbert O. Ang’ienda is a programme officer at OSIENALA in Kenya - a national NGO empowering the fishermen within the region - email@example.com
The common property resources provide an essential asset for rural people’s livelihoods in many developing economies. Access to the collectively managed resources plays an increasingly important role in poor rural households and yet the resources continue to be neglected in the development planning and policy making process of low-income societies. Consequently, common property resources are steadily declining and are under threat from a host of factors.In conclusion, the concept of common property resources must be accepted and appreciated by the region’s governments if there is to be any meaning to the Lake Victoria Fishing Conflict Management. The Common Property Regime (CPR) will provide the legal framework with known intervention procedures. The never-ending scramble for the resource (fish) will only enhance differences, over-exploitation and poor management of infrastructure.