The Migingo Island Dispute between Kenya and Uganda

35 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2016 Last revised: 5 Dec 2017

Date Written: August 5, 2016


Migingo is an islet in Lake Victoria, half the size of a football field. For most of its history, it had no significance. Recent adulterations to the lake’s water table in an age of climate change and to its biology in the Anthropocene age have altered the utility of the islet. It now sits atop the lake’s most fertile fishing ground and serves as a strategic off shore port straddling the water border between Uganda and Kenya. Uganda and Kenya dispute its sovereignty. Ownership of this microdot threatens bilateral peace and impacts regional security and economic development discussions. This Article contextualizes the dispute from historical and constructivist perspectives, noting pre- and post-colonial problems of border demarcation and modern limitations of international law’s main tool to quite post-colonial border disputes, the principle of uti possidetis. The rhetorical embrace of formal legal documents and solutions to border disputes is contrasted with constructivist interpretations that present alternative pathways for dispute resolution – pathways that recognize territorializing temptations of states which may preclude or hinder negotiated settlement, and prospects for condominium or shared sovereignty, which may support cooperation in the face of looming degradations to the Great Lake and its catchment area. The Article serves as a reminder that constructivism presents alternative futures that may yield liberal or illiberal outcomes.

Keywords: Migingo, Scramble for Africa, colonialism, divided sovereignty, uti possidetis, effectivités, constructivism

Suggested Citation

Rossi, Christopher, The Migingo Island Dispute between Kenya and Uganda (August 5, 2016). Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2016, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Christopher Rossi (Contact Author)

UiT, Arctic University of Norway ( email )

UiT Norges arktiske universitet
Postboks 6050 Langnes
Tromsø, Troms 9037
9019 (Fax)

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