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When a referee sees too many players on the field in a football game, he throws down a flag and calls a penalty. But what would a referee say about the 500 people who live on Migingo Island in Africa — a rock island less than half the size of a football field?
It appears there are way too many players on the field, and this miniature island in Lake Victoria is causing a huge conflict between the two African countries that claim it as their own — Kenya and Uganda. Migingo Island is technically within Kenya’s international border, but Uganda claims many of the fish — key to the million-dollar Nile Perch fishing industry — are in Ugandan waters.
Two Kenyan fisherman — Dalmas Tembo and George Kibebe — claim to have settled on the weed-and-snake-infested island before anyone else in 1991. When they noticed Migingo Island’s surrounding waters were teaming with Nile Perch, they invited 60 fellow fisherman to cash in on the abundant (and highly valuable) crop.
It wasn’t long before Ugandan and Tanzanian fisherman joined the hunt and over 100 boats were flocking between Migingo Island and the mainland on a daily basis. Trouble began to brew when pirates learned that Migingo Island fisherman were making three times their monthly earnings in a single day.
The pirates nabbed boat engines, cash and fish, leading the islanders to call upon their homelands for aid. Uganda’s government was the first to respond, and maritime police came to mark the island as Ugandan territory. Fisherman from all countries were exploited and taxed and Kenyans began to lose their boats and nets to Ugandan forces.
Although there is only one sanitation facility on the island, life isn’t all filth and conflict on Migingo, this tiny rock boasts a beauty salon, five bars, a pharmacy, a number of hotels and several other businesses. And with the much larger Usingo Island only 200 meters from the coast of Migingo, the community appears bound to expand.
While the Ugandan president Yoweri Musevini agreed that the island is technically within Kenyan territory in 2009, he continued to argue that the Kenyan fisherman were within Ugandan waters — just 500 meters off of the Migingo coast. The dispute remains unsettled, but both countries agree that the land and fishing disputes will be resolved peacefully.