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Durham University

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Kenya, Uganda border survey and demarcation in Lake Victoria will continue after difficult start

(5 May 2009)

In a joint communiqué on 29 April, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his Ugandan counterpart President Yoweri Museveni agreed to establish a 60-day deadline for the conclusion of the joint technical survey that would resolve the dispute over Migingo Island in Lake Victoria. The joint technical team is tasked with surveying and mapping their boundary in Lake Victoria, as well as installing buoys and markers to make the line visible. It was agreed that the joint exercise would be guided by the British Order in Council (1926), the Kenya Constitution (1963) and the Ugandan Constitution (1995). The two leaders also agreed to allow the presence of joint security forces on the island during the period of the survey exercise. Despite these significant steps, just few days after this agreement, the survey exercise was suspended.

In preparing for the joint survey, a Ugandan technical team was sent to London in late April to study the colonial documentation available in British archives. After the team returned with colonial documents including a 1948 agreement on the usage of Lake Victoria, a Ugandan government spokesman, Fred Opolot, declared that the joint survey and demarcation exercise would be suspended pending a Ugandan inter-ministerial emergency session on 4 May to discuss the findings. Following the meeting, on 5 May, Opolot announced that the joint survey and demarcation would continue with its work, starting on 11 May, and also reiterated Uganda’s commitment to accept the findings of the technical survey team.

The 1926 British Order in Council delimited the boundary in Lake Victoria from the tripoint with Tanzania at 1 degree S latitude north along a series of straight lines connecting the westernmost points on named islands to the mouth of the Sio river. Although there may be problems concerning islands with multiple names, from this delimitation it is likely that the joint survey will find Migingo positioned on the Kenyan side of the boundary. However, this description of the line presents significant challenges for managing activities (mainly fishing) around several islands in Lake Victoria since Ugandan administered waters extend directly to the shores of the islands named in the 1926 Order in Council. By demarcating the boundary in the lake using buoys and markers, Kenya and Uganda will determine sovereignty over Migingo and make their jurisdictions clearly visible for lake users. However, it is hoped that these two African neighbours will also agree cooperative strategies to address the on-going border management problems that may continue to generate disputes in the future.

Sources: ‘Uganda, Kenya border demarcation exercise starts Monday‘ Nicholas Bariyao, Dow Jones Newswires, 5 May 2009; Ugandan Ministers meet over disputed Migingo Island’ Dow Jones Commodities Service, 4 May 2009; ‘Uganda says can not go to war with Kenya over disputed border island’ Xinhua News Agency, 4 May 2009; ‘Uganda: Survey of disputed Migingo Island postponed’ BBC Monitoring Africa, 2 May 2009; ‘Uganda, Kenya to spend Shs3.5b on Migingo’ Daily Monitor. 1 May 2009; ‘Kenyan, Ugandan leaders set 60-day deadline for conclusion of island survey’ BBC Monitoring Africa, 29 April 2009.

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