East Africa: Region's Resource Dispute Resolution Treaty Up for Signing, Adoption

East African member states are reviewing the Protocol on Environment and Natural Resources Management to create provisions for combating climate change, e-waste management and peaceful resolution of disputes related to trans-boundary resources such as the contentious Migingo Island.

The EastAfrican has learnt that the agreement, which is now ready for signing, has clear provisions on reduction of greenhouse emissions, e-waste management and resolution of disputes arising from shared natural resources.

The reviewed protocol provides that any dispute arising from shared resources should be addressed in a peaceful manner by the respective EAC ministers of Environment.

De-escalation clause

"This is the approach that Kenya has been pursuing. In terms of whether issues around Migingo Island are covered by the protocol. Yes, they are covered because the treaty recommends peaceful resolution of any dispute and if a dispute were to escalate, it should be addressed by the ministers responsible in the EAC," Kenya's Principal Secretary in the State Department of EAC Affairs Kevit Desai told The EastAfrican.

"That will minimise the chances of it degenerating into conflicts amongst the partner states," he added.

The Migingo Island territorial conflict between Kenya and Uganda has remained a threat to peace and security in the region after both countries claimed sovereignty over the island.

Last year Kenya agreed to share the disputed island with Uganda and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Uganda to enable fishermen and other Lake Victoria users to access either side of the boundary.

The tiny Migingo is located along the Kenya-Uganda boundary in Lake Victoria and it has been a source of conflict for the two neighbouring countries since 2004.

EAC member countries view peaceful and co-ordinated management of shared natural resources as critical to promoting unity and regional integration that appears to have remained elusive largely due to persistent trade disputes and lack of commitment by member states in the implementation of joint regional projects.

"One of the key benefits of regional integration is the co-ordination in management of the environment and natural resources in order to ensure sustainability of the achievements that accrue from other fronts," said Dr Desai.

The protocol, which was signed by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in April 2006 has remained dormant for more than 14 years after Tanzania declined to ratify it calling for its review.

Rwanda and Burundi are not bound by the agreement since they were not yet part of the regional bloc by the time the agreement was being signed.

Article 114 of the EAC treaty provides for co-operation in joint management and sustainable ultilisation of natural resources within the bloc.

Mara, Nile, Victoria

Besides EAC's Protocol on Environment and Natural Resources, member states are signing a MoU with each other to co-ordinate management of share natural resources.

Kenya has signed a MoU with Tanzania for the management of the Mara catchment which is an important source of water for Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world and the main water reservoir for River Nile, a lifeline for downstream countries South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

The two partner states have also concluded and signed the MoU for joint management of Lakes Challa, Jipe and Umba River Basin.

"The Mara River is one such important trans-boundary natural is of immense value to the people in the basin and beyond. The upper catchment of the Mara River Basin is an important water tower that supports economic activity and livelihoods of the citizens of the four hosting counties of Bomet, Narok, Nakuru and Kericho," said Dr Desai.

Biological diversity

"The lower part of the basin is the source of water for both the people and the wide biological diversity that depends on it."

Kenya and Uganda are also in the process of signing a MoU for the conservation of Mt Elgon but the process has been slowed by the Covid-19 containment measures that restricted gatherings and movement.

Globally, 2015 Paris Agreement set a global goal to reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in the second half of the century and an increasing number of governments are translating that into national strategy, setting out visions of a carbon-free future, according to Climate Home News, a UK-based magazine focusing on the international politics of climate crisis.

Post-Paris Accord

The signatories to the Paris Climate Accord are expected to review their progress in reducing the greenhouse emissions during a global climate change conference scheduled for Glasgow (Scotland) in November 2021.

The Kenyan government has developed a national strategy of achieving 10 per cent forest cover by the year 2022 by planting 1.8 billion quality tree seedlings.

Currently Kenya has an estimated 7.2 per cent of forest cover.

"Borrowing from the global targets of trying to reduce greenhouse emissions and control climate change, Kenya has various policy documents and one of the key targets is to achieve a 10 per cent forest cover for the entire country," Dr Desai added.

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