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‘I visited the most crowded island on Earth’

‘I visited the most crowded island on Earth’


On the waters of Lake Victoria, you’ll find an island rising out of the ocean resembling an iron-plated turtle.

The rounded rocky outcrop is covered in metal shacks and home to roughly 1000 people.

This is Migingo Island — a place that is just half the size of a football field but that has been home to locals for 15 years.

It is located on the north eastern side of Lake Victoria and sits on the border between Uganda and Kenya.

It, however, has long been the centre of a territorial dispute between the two countries over which nation the tiny island really belongs to.

“Kenya and Uganda’s territorial claims are largely motivated by their desire to control the lucrative fishing trade around the island,” according to a 2019 report posted by the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA).

“Over the years, fish stocks in Lake Victoria have become depleted through overfishing and environmental degradation. But in the deeper waters around Migingo Island, there are still plentiful stocks of fish such as Nile perch which command high prices in overseas markets.”

Uganda previously presented archival colonial maps which it claimed clearly show the island is theirs, while Kenya argued its position on the basis of different sets of colonial maps and the claim that the island is 100 per cent inhabited by members of a Kenyan community, the Luo.

“For now, it remains to be seen whether diplomacy, international law, the co-management agreement, innovative fishing technologies or the peace agreement signed in 2018 will ultimately end the dispute between the two East African neighbours,” the 2019 AIIA report read.

Despite the contention, Dubai-based filmmaker Joe Hattab, who recently filmed his journey to the tiny island, witnessed no friction with both nationalities “hanging out together”.

With residents crammed into a hodge-podge of corrugated-iron homes, Joe wanted to find out what life was like on the crowded isle.

“You can see it from afar, like a mirage,” Joe explains from a tiny boat as he approaches the island.

To get to Migingo, he had to start by catching a flight to Nairobi in Kenya, and from there jump in a car for six hours to a small town called Kisumu, which sits on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Following all that, he had to hop in a local motorboat to Migingo, with the bumpy 26km trip taking around two hours.

After he finally reached the island, he was unsure how he would be welcomed.

“We have reached the island now, this is it. It’s getting dark, so I don’t know how they’ll welcome us. They say there’s Kenyan police here,” he explained from he boat.

“They say there’s more than 1000 people living on this island, it’s very small. I don’t know how they live like this,” he joked.

Joe said that when he got to the island, he had to turn off his camera where he was taken back onto the boat to a neighbouring (security) island to pay a $250 access fee.

“This money is divided between the island’s leaders who are Kenyans and Ugandans,” he said.

After getting the necessary permit, the filmmaker then headed back to Migingo island where he immediately stumbled into a night party, explaining there are Ugandans and Kenyans all living together on the crammed island.

As he walked through he said there was music playing, people playing pool and the smell of fried food scenting the air.

In one small supermarket, where alcohol and soft drinks are for sale, he finds the vendor playing music and using a makeshift DJ deck.

Meanwhile, in another scene a local who was cooking a meal explained to Joe their diet mainly consists of fish and chips.

“Looks delicious. They eat fish and chips everyday?” Joe asked the woman.

“Yes, everyday. And there are many who cook this.”

Despite disputes over land ownership, fishing binds the community together.

“Did you see how they cook? They’re all one community – Ugandans and Kenyans, united against the government and taking money from the people who come here,” Joe said.

The camera then shifted to Joe following his guide to a fisherman’s house, where he was given a bed for the night.

He showed off his bed in one of the tiny, tin homes right on the water. He opened the window to show how loud the ocean is.

“It’s so deep,” he said about the water. “This is the real travel experience.”

The following morning, Joe and his guide had to file a report at the local police station after their boat went missing.

But despite this, he was still able to get a ride off the island, thanking locals for his time there.

His guide also took the time to explain that despite territorial disputes at government levels, “we are all living together”.

“Now we are OK, we live together in harmony and in peace – we don’t fight among us.”

The guide said they have made their own rules to “live together in harmony”, which he said are not Kenyan rules nor Ugandan rules.

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