Wet Borders: Microslums and Meanders

[250 fisherman and fish traders are served by 4 pubs, several brothels, and a pharmacy.]

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?

[Population density in the Lake Victoria basin.]

[When wet borders meet receding waters, opportunistic land masses appear that werent there before. Recommended reading on this would be Gilles Deleuze's "Desert Islands" essay were he distingsuihes between orginiary and accidental islands.]

[Drawing the borders indicates that Migingo is about 500 m inside Kenya.]

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.

[The Lake Victoria Nile Perch is the largest fresh water fish and can weigh in at 300lbs.]

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. Both sides are conducting a joint border survey in an attempt to settle this - but this does not change the rapidly evolving ecology. Both countries are spending about $1.7 million to determine ownership.

[The Semliki River has randomly ceding huge chunks of land from the DEmocratic Republic of Congo to Uganda over the last half-century.]

As if Uganda didn't have its hands full already, it is also trying to assess the shifting border caused by the Semliki River, this time the dispute seems in its favor. The National Environment Management Authority’s State of the Environment Report 2008 reveals that the Semliki River changed its course in a total of 151 locations — 84 inside Uganda and 66 inside The DR Congo. This resulted in the natural ceeding of 50 square kilometrers of land from Congolese territory to Urgandan. In fact, several communities that used to be Ugandan are now Congolese and a telephone line pole which was installed by Ugandans decades ago now lies within DR Congo.

Run-off from the Rwenzori mountains is the Semliki's major tributary, but as temperatures rise water has descended the mountain with increasingly high volume causing erosion and redirection of its course. Subsequently, the river has widened by an average of 10 meters.

The politics of climate change run deep, and in many contexts are beyond co2 emissions. They are down to complex evolving geographies within which entire ecologies and populations stand to lose or (seemingly, within short terms) gain.

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