BY NZAU MUSAU
THE dispute over Migingo Island escalated because a section of the government wanted to embarrass Prime Minister Raila Odinga, by showing his powerlessness over the matter.
In a Wikileaks cable written on 8 May 2009 when the dispute was raging, former US ambassador Michael Ranneberger said the dispute had also been elevated into a “political drama” in order to distract Kenyans from the more pressing concerns.
It described the dispute which entailed Kenya and Uganda as “ultimately multifaceted political dispute” which could not be resolved through unnecessary and expensive survey. “The dispute also poses something of a political embarrassment to PM Raila Odinga, highlighting his powerlessness to resolve the issue despite its location in his ethnic Luo community,” the cable read.
The dispute started in 2006 when Ugandan authorities began demanding levies from Kenyan fisherman five times than their Ugandan counterparts. About 400 Kenyan fishermen were expelled when they refused to pay up.
Tensions flared again in February 2009 after Kenyan APs arrived on the island and replaced the Ugandan flag with the Kenyan flag, the result of which was the arrest of the Kenyan police by their Ugandan counterparts.
The cable reports that the Kenyan police were only released after President Kibaki intervened. It reports intense media and public pressure on Kenyan government to defend the territory and the deafening silence of President Kibaki. “There is some speculation that Kibaki’s silence on the issue is designed to embarrass Prime Minister Odinga, showing him to be powerless to resolve the dispute which negatively affects his ethnic Luo community,” the cable says.
It reports of the ripping up of a section of Kenya-Uganda railway at a “Luo-dominated Nairobi slum and cautions of a growing anti-Ugandan sentiment in Kenya. The cable further reported that the dispute provided an outlet for many Luo who believe that Museveni sought to influence the 2007 presidential election. “The dispute has elevated the political drama in the Kenyan government, and brought into focus the long-simmering rivalry between PM Odinga and Ugandan President Museveni. “Odinga has called strongly for his government to defend its territory, but the coalition government has been lax to act. Many see this as part of Kibaki’s PNU party attempting to make Odinga’s ODM party look feeble. “Kibaki’s refusal to act on Odinga’s call to defend the nation is both political and practical: Kibaki sees Museveni as a close ally and he has nothing to gain at this point by forcefully attempting to assert Kenyan sovereignty,” the cable concluded.