Vissers bij Virunga national park

Transboundary collaboration for improved safety on Lake Edward

Header photo: Fishermen near Virunga national park © Jan-Joseph Stok

Congolese rebel groups are terrorizing Lake Edward, which is an integral part of Virunga National Park. The lake covers the Democratic Republic of Congo (73%) and Uganda (27%). The problems of overfishing and terror by armed groups in the Congolese part are expanding to the Ugandan part of the lake. There, authorities feel forced to crack down on offenders. To reduce illegal activities and improve the safety on the lake, we are working on effective transboundary collaboration between the communities and authorities on both sides of the border.

Illegal activities

Lake Edward is an integral part of Virunga National park, covering two states: the Democratic Republic of Congo (73%) and Uganda (27%). Thanks to an agreement between the park authority of Virunga National Park (ICCN) and the local fishing cooperative, fishing in Lake Edward is allowed for members of the cooperation. Until the 90’s, this was enough for fishermen to make a living. But because of the economic crash of the cooperative and several wars at the beginning of the 90’s, more and more people retreated into the National park and overfishing became an issue. With the fall of the Republic Zaire in 1997, armed groups entered the park. 

Overfishing and illegal settlements have caused fish stocks to fall, resulting in insufficient fish for communities to live on. In addition to this, the safety of the area is under threat: armed groups use illegal fishing techniques, threaten fishermen and force them to pay a daily sum to be allowed to fish. As a result, fishermen illegally resort to the Ugandan part of the lake. But armed groups are also expanding their territory to the Ugandan side, resulting in kidnappings and unsafe situations. The Ugandan authorities use drastic measures to keep the rebels from gaining a foothold. In 2018, around 100 Congolese fishermen were arrested in Uganda and prosecuted for illegal fishery. At least 20 Congolese fishermen have been killed by Ugandan troops.

At the same time, Ugandan communities also engage in illegal activities on the Congolese side of the lake. They remove sand from the Congolese shores to sell it to large-scale chicken breeders, who use it as feed because it is filled with calcium-rich crustaceans.

Improved coordination and collaboration

To halt illegal activities and improve the safety on the lake, better coordination and collaboration between the communities and authorities on both sides of the border are needed. On the Congolese side, protection networks were established in as much as 12 villages. These networks consist of community members like farmers and fishermen. Equipped with smartphones and trained in documenting offenses, they forward data on illegal activities and unsafe situations, so communities can be brought to safety in time and involved institutions can act more effectively.

To expand this system of Congolese protection networks with similar networks in Uganda, we work together with partner organization FECOPEILE, as well as with support from the European Union, on building trust between the communities and authorities on both sides of the border. Handing out life jackets turned out to be an important step in gaining the trust of the Ugandan communities.

Besides, FECOPEILE is committed to informing communities and making them more resilient, for example by exchanging experiences between communities on the Congolese and Ugandan side and improving their knowledge on the current laws and legislation around fishing and other natural resources.

Additionally, they plead with the Congolese and Ugandan authorities for better collaboration and harmonization of legislation in both countries. They also vouch for a clear demarcation of the border, because it is unclear to fishermen on the lake what territory they are on.

Building bridges between Congolese and Ugandan fishing communities

On the Ugandan side, 55 fishermen in the Kayanza community were trained to comply with the fishing laws in their country. In the village Katwe, the existing women’s group ‘Women of Katwe in charge of preventing crime’ has been made more aware of the current laws, allowing them to make sure their husbands and children do not commit offenses. The two fishing communities in Uganda have been made aware of how to respect national boundaries and the rules around biodiversity conservation. They are now aware of the harmful effects of taking sand from the shores of the lake and no longer impair these.

Thanks to the activities, we have built bridges between the Congolese and the Ugandan fishing communities and have laid the foundation for effective transboundary collaboration to reduce illegal activities and improve the safety on Lake Edward.

This project description was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of IUCN NL and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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