Response to Migingo is a Threat to Regional Integration and African Unity


If you read the Kenyan and Ugandan papers or monitor other regional media, it would be understandable if you conclude that both countries are about to go to war over a disputed island that is about half the size of a standard football field, with not much room for supporters to watch if there was a 5-a-side football match. Why would two countries with very warm relations in recent years, both committed to further regional integration through an expanded East African Community, both members of several regional multilateral organisations including COMESA, IGAD, ICGLR and members of the African Union, go to war or escalate a border dispute to this level?

I think the explanation for the ease with which the African state is more prone to violent dialogue as opposed to peaceful diplomatic and political settlements of disputes has to do with the nature of these states which have been artificially built to satisfy other people’s interests and which are largely unchanged in their anti-people character, decades after independence. Otherwise we have to ask ourselves why states that cannot defend their own people from hunger and disease are ready and able to go to war, whatever the cost in human and material terms. That is why almost anything threatens the State in Africa and it has to prove its sovereignty in the negative. Unfortunately the citizens for whom the state could not provide basic services are mobilised and driven into frenetic nationalism.

There are differences between the reaction of Uganda’s and Kenya’s political leadership that show the mentality and political culture of both countries. Kenya has publicly held the position that this conflict can and should be resolved diplomatically and politically. Uganda says the same, but typical of the way and manner in which President Museveni and the NRA/M came to power, prepare for war while talking peace. The former’s political base is essentially civil while the latter’s essential nature is military.

But the reaction of the media in both countries contrasts the political responses. In Uganda the media is not that gung ho, whereas the Kenyan media is spoiling for war and quite critical of what they see as a weak response from President Kibaki’s administration. Maybe Ugandans are used to President Museveni’s militarism so it is not that surprising that UPDF soldiers are occupying the disputed island; many critics will say the same forces have occupied Uganda since 1986 anyway.

Indeed Uganda has virtually been at war with all its neighbours at one point or the other, with the exception of Kenya and Burundi (though many in Bujumbura may dispute this!). But Kenya is not known for interstate militarism even though its internal politics have been very violent with ethnic clashes, high profile assassinations and culminating in the violent post election disputes of 2007/8. So while Kenya’s political elite can be violent towards each other in their battles for supremacy, they seem to have kept it within their borders whereas Uganda’s political violence is historically externalised.

So why is the Kenyan media so militant? Partly because they are already frustrated with the Grand Coalition government for its non-delivery, but in particular because of President Kibaki’s ‘hands off’ approach to many controversies. The President is infamous for remaining so quiet in the face of burning issues that sometimes there is an impression that the country is on auto pilot. Migingo merely provides yet another opportunity for the media and the wider public to vent their spleen, this time using the threat of aggression by their gun toting neighbours to whip up patriotism.

It is really sad that our patriotism and nationalism are brought out mostly in the negative. Where is the patriotism of the media in the face of the high and low level corruption that is destroying the country, compromising the delivery of services, maintenance of roads and killing people in badly maintained hospitals? Where is the media’s patriotism in an aspiring middle income country that has 10 million of its citizens facing mass hunger and starvation when there is plenty of food? Why are they not waging war against corruption and hunger? Hunger in Kenya exists not because there is no food but because the poor do not have the resources to buy food. Middle class professionals and the indolent political elite who do not produce anything but milk the country dry, have money to buy any food they want whereas the poor and powerless who are farmers cannot farm due to drought and cannot eat due to a lack of economic means, occasioning famine. Where is the patriotism about this?

If militarism really works, President Museveni should have annihilated Joseph Kony and the LRA as he had repeatedly declared he would for more than 10 years now. Unfortunately, as they say, a leopard cannot change its spots.

This conflict needs to be resolved through legal, diplomatic and political means. President Kibaki has been pressured into ‘vowing’ to defend Migingo, but ‘defence’ does not and should not mean going to war. It is not a sign of weakness to give politics and diplomacy a chance. All conflicts on this continent are eventually resolved by negotiations, even if one side ‘won’ militarily. It is a set back for the fast tracking of East African integration, of which President Museveni is a key champion.

But Migingo is not really about the island, it is about excessive fishing, the declining fish population, the competition for declining waters of the lake, the threats posed to livelihood of the 30 million people who survive by the lake and the challenge of finding collective solutions to these problems by the different states involved. We cannot shoot down all our problems or enemies. Similarly we cannot solve all our problems both as individuals and as states on our own, therefore we are condemned to more negotiations, cooperation and wider commitment to regional integration and African unity whether we like it or not.


“Forward ever, backward never”…..Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972)

…………………….DON’T AGONISE! ORGANISE!!…………………………

Share This Post