In a case likely to upset Kenya’s neighbour, five Kenyan petitioners blame Kampala for losses inflicted by rising waters
Five Kenyan lawyers have sued Uganda and the East African Community over damages caused by Lake Victoria’s rising water levels.
In a suit filed at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha, Tanzania last Friday, the lawyers claim that the lake’s backflow that has submerged fish landing beaches, lakeside hotels and homes, was caused by an interference with the flow of lake waters into River Nile at Jinja, Uganda.
Former Kenya Law Society of Kenya President Isaac Okero (pictured) and lawyers Geoffrey Yogo, Raymond Olendo, Jared Sala and Moses Omondi say they have filed the suit for themselves and on behalf of all other East Africans whose property has been damaged by Lake Victoria’s rising waters.
In their suit, the lawyers have enjoined the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) as a third respondent and included Kenya and Tanzania as interested parties.
They describe themselves as owners of riparian property located on or within the vicinity of the shores of the lake.
They want the court to indict Uganda for failure, neglect, and or refusal to adhere to the policy for the release of water into the Nile at Jinja in total violation of the common interest of the EAC’s partner states and the regional treaty.
The lawyers also want the court to order Uganda to pay compensation for all property damaged by Lake Victoria’s backflow.
In the suit drawn and filed by lawyer Ochieng’ Oduol, the applicants claim that by building Nalubale Dam (formerly Owen Falls Dam) at the mouth of River Nile, Uganda interfered with the natural flow of Lake Victoria’s waters leading to the backflow.
They have enjoined the EAC in the suit, arguing that it has failed in its mandate of ensuring member states adhere to relevant treaties on managing the lake and the environment.
“The violations include undermining the objectives of the treaty and the status of Lake Victoria as the single most important shared resource that defines the East African Community,” the lawyers argue.
“The violation is threatening the unity of the partner states, eroding economic investments made in the lake region by the states and their citizens and other investors,” they argue.
The current EAC Secretary General Amb Liberat Mfumukeko and LVBC secretary, Dr Ali Matano, have been served.
The lawyers cited article 5,(3)C of the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement, which outlines how the region’s shared natural resources shall be utilised by EA’s member states and measures to protect the region’s ecological zones.
The lawyers argue that Uganda has acted in breach of the Nile River Basin agreement, and in so doing, placed the integrity of the pact to release Lake Victoria’s water into the Nile in jeopardy.
They argue that the current backflow of the lake is as a result of the blockade of water at the source of the Nile Basin, which ought to be urgently addressed by the three East African States.
According to the petitioners, the three countries’ sectoral council of ministers had agreed on a joint and binding treaty to release water into the Nile basin, which they now accuse Uganda of defying.
In the suit, the lawyers claim that Uganda has been releasing less water than the agreed threshold. This has caused the backflow of water into riparian land. This, they argue, is a violation of the fundamental humans rights of riparian communities.
The suit lists the Attorney Generals of Kenya and Tanzania as well as EAC Secretary General and the LVBC as interested parties for failing to enforce regional treaties relating to the lake.
An affidavit sourced from the release of water as captured by Uganda authorities and filed with the suit indicates that by March 22, the amount of water released by Uganda into the Nile was 1,350 cubic metres per second daily before rising to 1,550 cubic metres per second daily by March 24.
The lawyers argue that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on April 19 responded too late to the water mess when he directed engineers to release more water at the Nabulale Dam to ease the rising water level.
“They then started to release 2,400 cubic metres per day per second, doubling the capacity of what was recorded earlier, thus easing the backflow, albeit late,” the advocates state in their petition.