Fishermen nabbed in Tanzania recount their 65-day cell ordeal

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021 00:00 |
The fishermen who were arrested and charged in Tarime High Court in Tanzania. Photo/PD/Viola Kosome

Kepher Otieno

Lake Victoria has been a goldmine for fisherfolk in the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, which share the natural resource.

Kenya has six per cent share of the lake, Uganda (43) while Tanzania has the largest share (51 per cent).

But Kenyan fishermen have often found themselves in trouble with authorities in the two other countries.

Four Kenyan fishermen who were arrested by Tanzanian authorities for allegedly fishing in foreign waters have recounted their ordeal in the country’s police cells.

Gordon Owiti, 41, Samuel Isaiah (42), Erick Mosomi (35) and Stephen Joseph (27) all from Muhuru Bay in Nyatike constituency in Migori were arrested while on a fishing expedition on June 25.

According to Kibro Beach Management Unit chairman Maulid Joel, a fight erupted between Kenyan fishermen and their Tanzanian counterparts on the fateful day, during which the latter alerted police from the neighbouring country who rushed to the scene and arrested the Kenyans.

Charge sheet

They were then taken to Sota Beach police post in North Mara District of Tanzania where their boats and fishing equipment were seized.

Tanzania authorities accused them of fishing in their waters. They were charged in Tarime High Court with robbery with violence. 

Charge sheet stated that they made away with 26 fish gears. In an interview with People Daily, Muhuru Bay Ward Rep Hevron Maira said they were forced to raise over Sh300,000 to secure their release.

Fishermen narrated how Tanzanian marine police, who accused them of trespassing into their waters, arrested them in the dead of the night.

They were taken to a police cell in Tanzania where they spent days waiting to be charged. For close to 65 days, they were held in Tanzania.

Owiti recalled how their families spent sleepless nights trying to locate them, only to trace them to Tanzania where they were being incarcerated.

 “They eventually traced us to a jail in Tanzania,’ said Owiti.

They were freed on September 3 after clearing the fines imposed by the Tanzania court.

“We came from hell. We starved seriously. We were denied food and any access to phones,” recalls Joseph.

 “We survived on a meal of ugali and beans served once a day,’’ Mosomi adds.

Nyanza Regional Commissioner Magu Mutindika said the government has always intervened whenever Kenyans are arrested in foreign countries.

“Not so long ago, we intervened and saved Kenyans who were arrested in Uganda. We are trying our best, however, some of the fishermen are to blame for defying fishing regulations,’’ claimed Mutindika. 

While they are supposed to obey rules and use the right fishing gears, some do not, leading to their arrest. “You find that some fishermen cross borders even without letting the Beach management unit to know.”

He warned the fishermen against using sophisticated fishing gears that put them on collision path with the marine police patrolling the lake from Uganda and Tanzania.

Foreign officials

It is not the first time Kenyan fishermen are finding themselves in trouble with foreign authorities.

In November 2017, 17 Kenyan fishermen were arrested in Lake Victoria and detained on Ugandan islands by security personnel.

This was over alleged fishing in Uganda waters and using complex fishing nets, prohibited in the sector.

In 2019, Kenyan fishermen, from various beaches in Suba North and Suba South sub-counties, were also detained in Hama Island in Uganda.

Again this was for reportedly fishing in foreign waters and so the Ugandan Revenue Authority arrested them.

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