Central Africa: Uganda, DRC Conflict Over Rukwanzi Island Resolved

The Monitor (Kampala)

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Elias Biryabarema

Rukwanzi, the island in Lake Albert whose ownership was contested in the wake of the discovery of oil around the lake and precipitated a bloody skirmish between Ugandan and Congolese forces in August 2007, has been determined to be Ugandan territory.

The UPDF spokesman, Maj. Paddy Ankunda, told a conference on natural resource governance in Kampala on Friday that a geo-mapping exercise had established that the island is about two to three Kilometers within the Ugandan territory.

The Congolese authorities had accepted the verdict, he added.

The sparsely populated Rukwanzi had hitherto been viewed as a useless stone islet and had never attracted anybody's attention, let alone countries thinking about its ownership.

But from the moment oil was discovered in the Lake Albert basin, every inch of the lake surged in value and the island was not spared of the sky-rocketing interest, which culminated in an ownership row between the two countries.

The Congolese were incensed that Uganda had made quick advances in oil exploration in Lake Albert and that it could encroach on their maritime territory and steal their oil.

"When President Museveni met the Congolese president in Arusha in September last year, they agreed that Rukwanzi be demilitarised and they agreed that a demarcation commission be established to delineate the boundary between the two countries," Maj. Ankunda said. "Well, that demarcation exercise has actually not been done but a survey was done and Rukwanzi was found to be within Uganda and that is known by both sides."

Maj. Akunda told the participants who included Congolese civil society delegates and an MP that although Congo had agreed to Uganda's territorial rights over Rukwanzi, it had nevertheless been invited in the spirit of fostering peace and cooperation, to be part of a management team that will administer the island.

He cited the persistent lawlessness in Eastern DRC as the main reason many of the security agreements between Ugandan and Congolese authorities had not been implemented. The meeting was organised by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego) an NGO empowering the civil society to participate in the exploitation of oil, particularly through accountability and transparency.

Afiego director Dickens KaMugisha said the conference sought to unite the civil society in Uganda and Congo, to pressure their governments into resolving borderline conflicts and enacting policies that guarantee accountable exploitation of the oil.

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"Without active involvement of civil society in exploitation of natural resources, there's no incentive by officials to apply the proceeds to the welfare of citizens," he said.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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