Kenya’s minority fishermen fail to benefit from bounty in the lake
Ishbel Matheson hears how the rich resources of Lake Victoria are dwindling, while the Nyala fishing community fails to benefit.
Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, still hasn’t recovered from Kenya’s post-election violence. After nightfall, this normally thriving city, vibrant with music, dancing, eating and drinking, is unusually subdued. The scars of the violence run deep. Indiscriminate police shooting left many dead in Kisumu after the disputed poll results.
Kisumu is the heartland of the Luo tribe – whose main political leader is Raila Odinga. It is widely believed in Kenya (including by many from the dominant Kikuyu tribe) that President Kibaki and his Kikuyu-dominated PNU rigged the election to keep Raila’s ODM out of power.
Despite being the second largest tribe, the Luos have never held Kenya’s top job, and following the Grand Co-alition deal, brokered by Kofi Annan, the presidency remains with the Kikuyus. This still rankles with some Luos – and Raila had a tough job selling the benefits of the co-alition to his people when he travelled to Kisumu a week ago.
But I did not travelled to Kisumu to reflect on the broader Kenyan political picture. I went to see for myself the difficulties faced by the Nyala fishing community, a group who don’t even have official recognition, forget a place in the political life of the country. Despite the fact they provide an essential service, linked to the lake they call home, they do not benefit from the rich resources the lake holds. Instead, this group remains officially unrecognised in Kenya, and is normally assimilated into the bigger Luhya group. And down on the lakeshore, about three hours drive from Kisumu, the fishermen described their concerns about the dwindling fish stocks in Lake Victoria.
They said the lake was fished round the clock, and even as we spoke, the long-prowed boats were skimming over the shimmering blue water, delivering their catch of tilapia and Nile Perch to buyers on the shore. The problem, say Nyalas, is that the business is now so profitable that outsiders from elsewhere in Kenya have moved in. ‘The lake is tired,’ one fisherman told me.
They welcomed the creation of a new fisheries ministry under the new government, but said it was only a first step. They also want to see a better road down to the beaches (the one that I travelled was lousy), and a processing plant in the area, instead of the fish being transported to far-away Nairobi.
And of course, they want a say in how the precious resources of Lake Victoria are managed. After all, they argue, they understand better than anyone the fragility of the lake’s eco-system. Without sustainable practices, they fear future generations of Nyala may not be able to survive from fishing for long.
This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.