Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 09:35 UK

Rock divides East African neighbours

Migingo Island, Lake Victoria

By Josphat Makori
BBC News, Migingo Island

Sailing on the waters of East Africa's Lake Victoria, a shine of metal on the horizon catches your eye.

This metal glint becomes Migingo Island.

A rugged rock juts out of the water, measuring no more than a hectare and without a trace of soil; it is covered with tin-built structures and surrounded by fishing boats.

This island is in Uganda, 100%
Wanjala Simon

For outsiders, it is hard to see why this rock is raising the diplomatic temperature between Kenya and Uganda.

The neighbours have long been close allies and are even talking of forming a federation and having a single currency in the East African Community.

But both countries claim the island and the row has led to angry exchanges, with one Kenyan MP calling Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni a dictator for saying the island was Kenyan but the waters Ugandan.

Hopes dimmed

Mr Museveni had gone right to the heart of the issue, as local Kenyan official Juma Mbori explains:

"You see, it's in the middle of the deep waters where one gets the right size and quantity of fish."

fishermen carry their catch
Migingo is abuzz with fishing activities

"Fishing here is very cheap.

"Unlike other places, here you do not incur huge transport costs, you just get the fish out of the water and onto the island, you don't have to travel far and spend a lot on fuel for the boats."

Hopes of resolving the island ownership dispute between Kenya and Uganda seem to be dimming.

The two East African nations agreed to conduct a joint survey to verify ownership but now, Uganda has withdrawn and diplomatic temperatures are rising.

Ugandans in charge

The island attracts hundreds of people from neighbouring countries and is abuzz with activity:

Fishermen offload their catch, while others prepare their nets for further fishing expeditions and in one corner of the island, there is a shelter where tons upon tons of fish are weighed and sold to middle men who take them to the mainland.

map showing Migingo Island

But Migingo is not just about fish.

Slightly away from the shore, music blared from a tin-built bar with its name written outside: Malomalo bar, Kaguta Island.

Kaguta is the middle name of Uganda's President Museveni - a reminder of the passion that surrounds the ownership dispute of the island.

Inside the bar, there were revellers dancing to the music and others just enjoying it from their seats.

I also noticed that there were several brothels where a number of commercial sex-workers conducted their business.

The languages spoken are as varied as the people on the island - there are Kenyans, Tanzanians, Ugandans and Kenyans of Somali origin.

But there is no doubt who is in charge.

On arrival, you are required to first report to the Uganda security office.

For the fishermen and traders, however, the dispute over which country the island belongs to does not seem to be affecting business.

'Different languages, one people'

Ugandan fisherman Wanjala Simon explains: "Lucky Dube sang Different Colours, One People. But here we say different languages, one people.

"We all live here and work together very well. There is no war here," he says.

man sits with his back to a crate full of fish
The dispute originates in the rich fishing waters of Lake Victoria

But ask him which country the island belongs to and his answer is prompt and emphatic: "Oooh! Some people call this island Migingo but Ugandans know it as Kaguta Island, the [middle] name of our president. This island is in Uganda, 100%."

The Kenyans on the island however dispute this.

They cite its proximity to Kenya as proof that Migingo is in their country.

It takes about an hour to sail to Migingo from the nearest Kenyan beach and more than 10 hours from Uganda.

Although their response is muted in comparison to the Ugandans, there is some disquiet, as Kenyan fisherman Clifton Juma illustrates:

"What bothers me is that we say the island is in Kenya but there is nothing that shows it. Look at what government is here, it's Ugandan. The security personnel carrying arms are Ugandan.

"So where is the Kenyan government?"

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