Migingo Island Saga: Is Museveni a Scapegoat?

Published on 19th May 2009

Migingo Island                             Photo:Courtesy

It would take a cartographic genius to map the contours of an island such as Migingo and to delimit sovereign boundaries on the basis of the fluid line where water meets land. Museveni seems to be that genius by claiming that Kenya can claim Migingo (the land) but not a centimetre of the water around it. How this can be determined in the event of the seasonal rise and fall of tidal waves is impossible to imagine. Why would Museveni advance such a cartographic insanity? Could it be the only way to concretize an issue that was nonexistent in the first place?


Migingo has turned out to be the proverbial hot potato that he cannot juggle anymore. Our attention should not be on Museveni but on those that may have given him the potato in the first place.


It is uncanny that on realizing that the just launched boarder survey will vindicate Kenya’s claim to Migingo, Museveni cannot help but give voice to the whole rationale behind the dispute. It had nothing to do with Kenya but everything to do with these “jaluos.” Isn’t it also uncanny that Museveni’s disparaging of the “jaluos” sounds like one Kenyan MPs  recent “curse from the lake” comment  or  another  Minister’s earlier comment about the NSE not being “ a fish market”? The common basis of these comments makes it difficult to disentangle the Migingo ruse from the political mindset of the ruling ethno-elite in Kenya against a section of her citizenry.


It is sad that in Kenya, the exclusionary ethno-centred principle of governance has always relied on fear of the “jaluos” as its raison d'etre. It has consistently focused less on the economics of development, the progressive vitality of inclusiveness for all citizenry, and the necessity of equal, if not equitable representation in government, but more on the strengthening of the infrastructure for ethnic domination and quiescent management.


As Kenyans, we have managed, albeit slowly, to push our governing systems towards a transformation—the limitations of our statutes and institutions notwithstanding. What is worrying about Museveni’s outburst about the “jaluos”—which is why I invoke the attributes of the uncanny—is its resonance to the echo chamber of Kenya’s ruling ethno-elite.


Ever since the Migingo issue assumed national visibility, the reactions from president Kibaki,  Saitoti (ministry of internal security), Wetangula (ministry of foreign affairs), Ali (Police commissioner) and Mutua (government spokesperson) engendered a perception that Uganda held all the cards in respect of Migingo, and that Kenya had little or no interest in it. Sadly, similar views were echoed by other ethno-inspired columnists who hang on the hope of inheriting and perpetuating current hegemonic tendencies once Kibaki’s generation gets out of the picture.


It might turn out that Museveni was deliberately asked to externalize the “jaluo problem” in the hope that it would deflect the said “jaluos” attention away from the reform starved leadership in Nairobi. That as long as “jaluo” redirected their energies toward Migingo, Kibaki might just breathe easy. Kibaki and Museveni banked on the possibility of alienating Raila from his perceived base as long as it appeared that he is woefully handicapped to initiate action on Migingo, by a paralysis that betrays the expectation of his official perch. Meanwhile efforts were to be placed on driving a wedge between the “jaluos” and the Kalenjin, hence the ill-conceived KK alliance talk where MP Mbogua directly attacked the Luo community, and the tepid support given to the PM in respect of the Mau Forest evictions and resettlement.


Letting Raila appear to be the one hell bent on evictions from the Mau was intended to project him in bad light amongst the Kipsigis. It seems to have worked if you bear in mind the short sighted and ill-informed comments of Isaac Ruto, Kutuny and Magerer among others. The PM has been wise not to plunge headlong into the snare. In the mix is the unsettling inclusion of NCCK in the blame all strategy where every failing must be blamed on both as a way of chipping away at Hon Raila’s credibility and viability for future leadership. 


The weak link was the inability to anticipate wananchi’s reaction. Museveni did not count on the disruption of the supply line to Uganda. When Kibera’s residents protested and uprooted the railway and wananchi further threatened to disrupt movement on the Busia and Malaba corridors, Museveni was left with no alternative but to drop the ball.


By so audibly disparaging  “jaluos’ on the BBC interview, he is subtly letting people into the backstage scene of  whole mischief even as he points toward the direction of its conception— the ruling ethno-elite mindset that has struggled to frame the “jaluos” as Kenya's inside-outsiders. Our anger should not be directed at Museveni but to those at whose behest, he held the Migingo brief which with the wisdom of hindsight, he now realizes he should not have done.


That Kenya’s discrimination of an ethnic community is now outsourced from a foreign government is beyond outrage-for lack of a better term. Externalizing domestic problems is an old political strategy that is effective only when it is conceived  and executed with basic intelligence. The crudity with which this one was conceived is reason enough to have its planners charged for treason and punished accordingly.


Jakarachuonyo Milton Obote Joshua

Amherst, MA

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