Fresh tension has gripped Lake Victoria islands in western Kenya following new arrests of more than 12 Kenyan fishermen by Ugandan security officials.
In what is seen as retaliation after Kenyan security officials secured the release of their three police officers arrested by Ugandan soldiers last week, fishermen on the Kenyan side of the lake are in fear of a fresh wave of arrests.
Local politicians have reignited the debate on ownership of Migingo Island in Lake Victoria, saying they have been raising these issues yet the government has done nothing about it.
Barely a week after Ugandan authorities seized three Kenyan police officers and five fishermen from Nambo Beach in Siaya County, on Saturday they seized two boats.
Witnesses say the officers’ guns and phones were taken away before the officers were transferred to Namaingo in eastern Uganda by boat.
Siaya County Administration Police Commandant Patrick Lumumba said the incident involved up to eight soldiers on patrol who arrived in a Kenyan boat.
On Saturday, according to an incident reported at Usenge Police Station by Nambo Beach Management Unit chairman Gabriel Onyango at 4pm, two Kenyan boats - one with an engine and the other without - were confiscated by Ugandan soldiers.
According to Mr Crispin Nyaga, Usenge police boss, the soldiers were three, one in uniform and armed. They seized the boats, arrested six fishermen, and took away hundreds of kilogrammes of fish.
The boat without an engine belongs to a Mr Omollo. On board were fishermen Daniel Oyugi, John Liepa and Daniel Odhiambo. The other boat is owned by Mr Atepe Okinya, and was being used by fishermen Evans Ochieng, Sadam Onyango and Kevin Otieno.
“The authorities took away about 400kgs of fish but released the fishermen,” said Mr Nyaga.
This time round, the Quick Response Team of the Administration Police of Kenya gave hot pursuit and rescued both fishermen and the boats, he said.
He added that the area needs frequent patrol by Kenyan officers to prevent unnecessary arrests by Ugandan soldiers.
“We need more police patrols and speed boats to assist in all this,” said Mr Nyaga.
A day earlier, six fishermen from Ringiti Island were arrested and released on Saturday after paying some money. The fishermen were arrested on Friday morning near the island while fishing.SH
Ms Penina Aluoch, owner of one of the three boats seized, said Ugandan security personnel demanded Ksh18,000 ($178) to release the fishermen and the fishing gear.
“I have been told by the arrested fishermen that Ksh18,000 is needed to have my two boats and the fishermen released,” she said.
Suba North OCPD Charles Mwangi said they were pursuing the matter and would have the fishermen released.
“We had received information on the arrest of six Kenyans from Ringiti Island. We have had them released after officials of Kenyan fishermen negotiated with Ugandan security officials,” said Mr Mwangi.
Other islands affected are Remba, Kiwa and Mfang’ano.
Lake Victoria Beach Management Units chairman Tom Guda asked the State to take the conflict seriously.
“Insecurity facing Kenyan fishermen in Lake Victoria as a result of harassment by Ugandan officers is not new. The State should end it completely,” said Mr Guda.
Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo, Nyatike MP Tom Odege and Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda yesterday said they had raised the issue of harassment of Kenyan fishermen with State officials without success.
Mr Odege said resolution of the dispute between Kenya and Uganda should form part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy.
He said the row was more than 15 years old and it was high time it was resolved permanently.
Early last year, the Ugandan government brought in new officers from its People’s Defence Force to replace the ones who had been on the island for more than four years.
Although Kenyan security officers are also deployed on the island, they are outnumbered by those from Uganda.
Reports by Rushdie Oudia, Barack Oduor and Elisha Otieno