Uganda, DRC in fish­ing war

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - WORLD -

Rwen­shama – Ugan­dan navy speed­boats sliced through Lake Ed­ward to­wards a fleet of wooden ca­noes car­ry­ing il­le­gal fish­er­men from the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, high­tail­ing it back to their own wa­ters.

“Stop the boat, hands up, sur­ren­der any weapons,” yelled Lieu­tenant Deogratius Kato as the sol­diers sur­rounded a mo­torised ca­noe, point­ing guns at two ter­ri­fied fish­er­men. The rest of the boats es­caped into Con­golese wa­ters.

Kam­pala has stepped up pa­trols in re­cent months to crack down on il­le­gal fish­ing on Lakes Ed­ward and Al­bert, strad­dling Uganda and Congo. The mis­sions have led to the ar­rest of hun­dreds of Con­golese fish­er­men and sent ten­sions soar­ing be­tween the two coun­tries, whose armed forces en­gaged in deadly clashes on Lake Ed­ward in July.

Both lakes lie mostly in Con­golese ter­ri­tory where un­con­trolled fish­ing has de­pleted stocks, driv­ing fish­er­men into Ugan­dan wa­ters where of­fi­cials are now clamp­ing down on over­fish­ing.

“Since we started our cam­paign against il­le­gal fish­ing, we have seen fish stocks in­crease on our side, hence the in­flux of fish­er­men from the Congo,” said Bri­gadier Michael Nyarwa, head of Uganda’s navy.

The lakes are home to cat­fish, tilapia and Nile perch, which are con­sumed lo­cally and ex­ported. Land­locked Uganda’s fish­ing in­dus­try ac­counts for 3% of GDP, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures.

World­wide, over­fish­ing in lakes and oceans is up­end­ing del­i­cate ecosys­tems, im­pact­ing the liveli­hoods of mil­lions and lead­ing to blood­shed in Uganda and Congo. In July, their armed forces clashed on Lake Ed­ward, leav­ing two Ugan­dan sol­diers and three civil­ians dead.

In the lat­est in­ci­dent, Ugan­dan au­thor­i­ties this week de­nied killing four Con­golese fish­er­men whose bul­let-rid­dled bod­ies were found float­ing in Lake Ed­ward.

Ac­cord­ing to Lieu­tenant-Colonel James Nuwagaba, a com­man­der of the Lake Ed­ward oper­a­tion, the first 200 fish­er­men who were ar­rested were re­leased, “but some of them re­turned to our wa­ters”. Uganda has taken a tougher stance since, with nearly 100 Con­golese ar­rested, charged and im­pris­oned for up to four years.

The war over the ever-scarcer re­sources of the lakes is spread­ing. To the south, Rwan­dan and Con­golese fish­er­men are ply­ing the wa­ters of Lake Kivu to feed fast-grow­ing pop­u­la­tions on both shores.

But com­pe­ti­tion need not be deadly, nor damaging, said Egide Nku­ranga, a Rwan­dan en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. “Coun­tries that share wa­ter re­sources have make com­mon agree­ments that pro­tect re­sources and help re­plen­ish over­ex­ploited stocks. ”

Back on Lake Ed­ward, ten­ta­tive talks are un­der way, a Ugan­dan army source said, to re­solve il­le­gal fish­ing, mi­gra­tion and piracy and end the blood­shed. –

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