Kenya must stop being a pushover on border disputes

Last week, I read with dismay that Kenya had ceded more land to Tanzania after a boundary demarcation exercise. The story was covered in the July 6 edition of  People Daily in a story titled: “Pain of villagers whose land has moved to ‘TZ’. One farmer  lost three quarters of his farmland to the land of John Pombe Magafuli. Yet again it seems we are not serious in protecting the territorial integrity of our country. Yet again Kenya capitulated to the demands of another nation.

Let me start with that constant thorn in the flesh: Migingo Island. Even before the tiny piece of rock was an issue, Kenyan fisherman faced harassment from Ugandan authorities. Ugandan police would seize fishermen boats and their catch, and only let them go after stiff fines were paid. Of the three countries that share Lake Victoria, we already have the smallest portion, there is no need to extend generosity to Uganda and Tanzania by giving up valuable territorial waters. 

Not only do our neighbours feel the need to steal our land, but we are also saddled with porous borders all around us.

For as long as I can remember, banditry and general lawlessness have been an issue in what the colonists used to call the “Northern Frontier District.” There are many reasons cited for the sorry state of affairs in Turkana, Marsabit, Garissa, Moyale and other frontier districts. Chief among them has been the proliferation of small arms. The arms come through the borders from countries in conflict all around us.

Still on that same note. Kenya dares not touch the waters of Lake Victoria because of some outdated colonial artefact called “The Nile Treaty”. Egypt and Sudan hold the cards. Yet when Ethiopia builds a dam that all but guarantees the drying up of Lake Turkana, Kenya barely lets out a whimper. 

For lack of a better word, Kenya needs to “man up” and draw a line in the sand. We must not be pushed any further. We might have one of the most professional military, but may be our neighbours are not impressed.

As one observer pointed a long time ago, we are the only country in the region whose president has never worn military fatigues in the real sense.

Somalia had General Siad Barre for many years, and several warlords including Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed as President. Ethiopia had Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi. South Sudan had John Garang, and now Salva Kiir. Uganda had Idi Amin, and now Yoweri Museveni. Even peaceful Tanzania had Jakaya Kikwete.

It is perhaps time we stopped enabling our bullies, by letting them get away with anything they want.

—The writer is a PhD student at Northern Illinois University, USA —@janeksunga

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