Uganda, DRC in fishing war
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. –