14 August 2016

The gold in fishing

He talks slowly, almost calculating every word. Kiwanuka Lutaaya is calm and even as we go about our interview, different people, mostly fishermen, will loudly interrupt our conversation.

He peacefully signals to them that we are doing an interview. Fishing villages are not only about fishing but also bring together different people. One could say fishing villages fish for all kinds of people.

And Lutaaya’s character is ideal to handle the locals whose character traits and age vary. He has managed to listen to everyone and solve conflicts that had divided the village, mainly along what he calls administrative shortfalls.
On a lazy Thursday afternoon is when I first make contact with this seasoned fisherman. He welcomes me to his office but despite having a scheduled meeting that would require him to sail to Mukono; he gives me attention, explaining that my timing is not the best. He offers me an option to return two days later. I oblige.

On meeting
His office does not have much but his experiences have offered him much. From a tender age, all he has done is fishing. Ggaba fishing village is a busy place. A woman with a baby strapped to her back washes dishes as she orders her assistant to adjust firewood between three stones.

On the stones is a big saucepan covered with army green banana leaves owing to the heat. Metres away from a makeshift restaurant are heaps of firewood.

I later learn from Lutaaya that the wood is got from Mukono and other neighbouring islands. School owners, bakers and those operating sauna facilities buy from the stock piles. The cost is big on the environment in terms of lost trees.
Anyway, when Lutaaya’s parents could not push him further in school, after Primary Six, he chose to find a soul mate and begin a family. The family needed to be fed and he would do menial job. While doing so, he made friends.

Getting started
One day, in the early 1990s, a friend shared with him a huge piece of tilapia on which he fed with his family. He was happy and challenged at the same time. As his wife prepared the fish, he looked at the size of the fish and thought to himself that fishing could earn him a living and also feed his family.

“I asked my friend to teach me how to fish. He accepted and the next morning, he took me to Muvumbo Fish Village in Mpigi District. He taught me how to cast the net as a way of attracting fish into them. He hooked baits onto them,” he recounts with a smile. His first catch. They cast nets at about 7pm. It was like going on a hunting expedition. They did not know where the fish was but counted on luck. “We caught 12 tilapia and 27 Nile perch which earned us some good money.”

He did this for a while and in 1997, he moved to Nakiwogo, Entebbe, where he would make a better living. Indeed it was here that he was able to make money enough to organise an official visit to his in-law’s home.
“I was also able to save some money and started building our home which we have since moved into,” he adds. He also started a retail business for his partner, and bought his first big boat. He says it enabled him to grow as a businessman because he did not have to rent a boat or escort another fisherman and earn a commission after the fishing expedition.

Amassing more
When he moved to Ggaba Fishing Village, he bought more boats. He was keen on saving because he knew he would also rent out his boat and earn from it. Lutaaya’s peers started trusting him.

With time, they entrusted him with leadership as the fishing village’s chairman. He estimates the village has a population of close to 600 fishermen, between 35 and 50 years.

“Our fishing village was disunited and I ensured that my first task it to find ways of uniting us. I held meetings and sold the idea of sharing opportunities and challenges,” he recollects. The fishermen’s village was dirty and he dealt with hygiene issues through calling upon locals to engage in self-help initiatives of cleaning their work environment. Today, hygiene has improved a great deal.

Recently, they received 74 life jackets from Makerere University which the chairman says has helped in improving safety of fishermen while at work. He adds that often times, colleagues would go out fishing and not return because they had drowned and died.

• Climate change causes fish to migrate to cooler zones, sometimes away from Ggaba.
•Waste from Katwe, Kisenyi and other city suburbs comes through trenches. This carries with it bottles, plastics, and other garbage which if poured into the lake affect fish which either die or migrate to safer zones.
• Population pressure. People have constructed on water borderlines. Many times the lake is reclaimed. Then, the shades provided by the trees have been cut down. Fish need shade and cool areas,” Lutaaya explains.
• Overfishing. ”I have tried my best to fight overfishing but sometimes the challenge is poverty. Many people depend on fishing for a living. Government is to blame at times. They bring police marine onto waters but these people are corrupt,” he observes. Many times they engage in operations to curb overfishing but are instead attacked by some individuals from marine police. The law enforcers take bribes and because they are armed, the fishing village administration can only do little to fight the vice.
• He calls on government to donate fishing nets as a way of curbing uncontrolled fishing. Some fishermen use jerrycans to fish. An average net costs between Shs100, 000 and Shs300, 000. Licence for 20-feet boat is Shs200, 000. A fisherman pays Shs20, 000 as tax at the fishing village.
• “HIV/Aids. People were not sensitised so they used not to go for treatment. Now, there is treatment and outreaches, they are healthier ,” Lutaaya adds.

Away from work
Lutaaya cherishes time he spends with family. He is a father and husband though not comfortable telling the number of children he has. He says it is taboo to ask an African man how many children he has.


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