BBC: Troubled Waters of Lake Albert

The village of Ntoroko on the shores of Lake Albert seems peaceful enough at first glance, but the 600 fishermen who make their living here say recent events on the lake have devastated their business.

Earlier this month, two people were killed when men in Congolese army uniforms clashed with security guards working on an oil exploration barge in the lake. The Congolese said the barge was in their waters, the oil company Heritage said it was anchored in Uganda.

Fishermen on the Ugandan shores of Lake Albert

Fishermen on the Ugandan shores of Lake Albert

In a separate incident, four Ugandan army soldiers were taken into  custody for allegedly trespassing on Congolese territory, but were later  released.

The border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo cuts  straight throughLake Albert. But it’s difficult to demarcate and police  this watery frontier, which goes someway to explain these recent  incidents.

The Ugandan fishermen say they are so concerned about their security,  that they consider the deeper waters of the lake, which offer the best  fishing, to be too dangerous now. “I used to ship seven tonnes of fish  every four days,” says Henry Mubiru who transports fish fromLake Albert to the Ugandan capitalKampala. “Since the events of the last three weeks, that’s dropped to around two tonnes.”

Tensions at the lake have been exacerbated by reports that Congo and Uganda are tussling for ownership of the island of Rukwanzi. Balinda Habib, the local council Chairman in Ntoroko, told me the island had always belonged to Uganda, but few Ugandans lived there. “They were told to leave that place because it’s a breeding ground for fish,” he says. “So around 15 years ago, many Ugandans moved out. Now about 1000 people live there, but they’re mostly Congolese.”

Rose Kirungi

The Ugandan authorities wouldn’t allow me to visit Rukwanzi but I took a boat out ontoLake Albert to meet Ugandan Rose Kirungi. She moved to the island 8 months ago to buy and sell fish but says she was evicted by Congolese soldiers at the weekend. “They called me to the office and told me to leave the island. They said I was letting spies from Uganda sleep in my house. Then they put me in a boat and told me to go.” Rose has now moved to a different island in the lake.

Following the incidents earlier this month,Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to hold talks by the end of August to discuss their border at Lake Albert and have set up a commission to look into sharing oil resources in the area. What’s at stake here is more than just a 3km square piece of real estate. Rukwanzi is seen as a strategic location for oil exploration which has been going on in the area for several years. And whoever ultimately claims the island could be sitting on many barrels of oil and thus a small fortune.