By Frederic Musisi
Kampala — A Ugandan government delegation is in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for talks over transboundary disputes and management of Lakes Albert and Edward in the Albertine region in South Western Uganda.
Lake Albert is shared in roughly equal parts by the two countries while DR Congo takes the biggest share of Lake Edward. The frontier area’s security is also undermined by the lawless nature of DRC’s eastern region where militias roam and Kinshasa’s grip is fragile.
The delegation led by Ambassador Paul Mukumbya, Head of the East African Community (EAC) and Ring States Department in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, left on Sunday. The delegation is also comprised of officials from the ministries of Water &Environment, Local Government and Agriculture (Department of Fisheries), Uganda Revenue Authority, and Office of the President.
The DR Congo Delegation which includes the counterparts of the Ugandan team is headed by the Charge D’Affaires at DRC embassy in Kampala, Ambassador Jean Pierre Masala.
In Uganda, the Albertine region covers areas in the Districts of Bushenyi, Rubirizi, Mitooma, Kanungu, Ibanda, Kiruhura, Kamwenge, Kasese, Rukungiri (in Edward Basin) and Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, Hoima, Buliisa, Kibale, Kagadi, Masindi and Nebbi Districts (in Albert Basin).
In DR Congo, the Lake Edward is in the North Kivu Province and Lake Albert in the Ituri Province. The total population within the Albertine area is estimated to be about 12 million people.
The head of public diplomacy in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, Margaret Kafeero, said in a statement the meeting is partly facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the peace and security cluster.
Speaking at the opening of the meeing, Ambassador Mukumbya, said the meeting was a follow-up to the cross-border cooperation meeting held in Nebbi district in November last year, to address reported conflict and skirmishes involving both government officials and citizens in the Albertine region, “..objective of the meeting is to agree on viable and sustainable solutions to various challenges identified by both countries including illegal fishing, use of illegal fishing methods, over-fishing due to uncoordinated regulation policies, confiscation of fishing gear by both sides, extortionist practices on both sides, attacks on fishermen and law enforcement officials as well as reported incidences of piracy.”
Uganda and DR Congo have over the years had long running border conflicts running from South Western Uganda to West Nile. However the discovery of commercial oil deposits on the Ugandan side, announced in 2006, heightened the tensions with DRC sometimes accusing Uganda of conducting illegal exploration in its waters.
Following increased border disputes in 2007, the two countries signed the Ngurdoto Agreement to that provided for a joint commission to verify and define the common borderlines and formulate amicable ways of resolving the disagreements.