Wet Borders: Microslums and Meanders  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

InfranetLab has an interesting post on the changing geography (and fish-ography) of the east African lake system - Wet Borders: Microslums and Meanders.

Migingo Island, home to some 300 residents, sits precariously within Lake Victoria along the watery border of Uganda and Kenya. Its undetermined origins declare that either: a) two Kenyan fisherman settled there in 1991, or b) a Ugandan fisherman also claimed to have settled there in an abandoned house in 2004. Regardless, since that time, the place has really taken off – becoming what one journalist called a microslum. Each successive year that the level of Lake Victoria decreased, the originally rocky tip exposed greater landmass to occupy. So, complicating matters is Lake Victoria’s rapidly receding lake. But why here, why such a precious outpost?

Its all about the perch, Nile perch. Fishing in Lake Victoria, one of the largest bodies of fresh water, is essential to some of the 30 million Africans that live within its reach. Nile perch was introduced here in the 1950s and has risen to become an essential part of the economy of Lake Victoria’s fishery. (The perch was so successful in rejuvenating the fishing economy here that it decimated nearly 350 native fish species to rise to the top of the chain.) This success means that in recent years the Nile perch populations have dwindled and many native species are thought to be recovering. But really the whole Nile perch story, which in a Jared Diamond-esque way utlimately leads to weapons, is epic enough to be a film in its own right.

Fishing supports an export industry in East Africa whose value is estimated at US$250 million annually. And the convenience of Migingo Island in this tightening economy (and shrinking ecology) has placed extreme presue on the island, with Ugandan police patrolling the waters and intercepting catch from Kenyan fisherman. A claim by several locals involved in the dispute has even lobbied that the fish are Kenyan because of which side of the border they breed on. Another strange claim is that the land belongs to Kenya but the water belongs to Uganda. And the dispute continues as on the island itself Ugandans and Kenyans exist within different ‘neighborhoods’ on this tiny acre of rock.

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