By Derrick Rogers Malumba
First of all, there may be some similarities because of the dispute between these two islands and their neighboring countries. However, there are also differences ranging from history to the beginnings of the conflicts of these islands.
Anyone in Uganda may have heard of Migingo, a small island in Lake Victoria that Kenya continues to claim to this day. Even if you’ve never heard of it, I’m sure you’ve heard once or twice about the fight between Ugandan marines and Kenyan police, the fight between Ugandan fishermen and Kenyan fishermen, and social media fights like the Twitter war between Uganda and Kenya.
I guarantee that 90% of those fights will have come or at least have connections from claims over the islands of Migingo.
In this Article, I would like to introduce a Korean island that is similar to Migingo in some ways but also different in other ways. The name of this island is Dokdo. The goal of this article is to learn about the disputes, history and beauty of a small Island in the East Sea called Dokdo which has so much in common with Migingo, a small, battled Island on Africa’s biggest lake.
Like Migingo, this Korean island is claimed by neighboring Japan. This is one of the similarities that clearly shows how Dokdo is similar to our well known Migingo Island. But there are other things in common. Let’s learn and compare a little about the history, scenery, and current economic activities currently taking place on these two Islands. Despite it’s resemblance to Migingo in territorial disputes, the two islands are also a little different in other ways too as we are going to see in this article.
Dokdo is located in the East Sea, about 87 km from Ulleungdo another Korean island. It is an island with an area of just over 187,000 square meters. Dokdo is a small island about 1/9000 of Jeju Island (largest and most popular Korean Island). The island’s scenery is breathtaking, and it is a popular tourist destination for Koreans and foreigners who do not want to miss out on what beauty Dokdo scenery has to offer.
As I mentioned earlier, Migingo has something in common with Korea’s Dokdo. Here, I’m talking about the conflict between Korea and Japan, and the conflict between Kenya and Uganda. First, in the context of Migingo, the conflict between Uganda and Kenya seems to have a very big economic influence.
That’s because the dispute began when the fishermen on this small island were discovered to be earning almost twice or even three times as much as fishermen on the shores of Lake Victoria. The taxes from this fishing activity on this Island seems to be the main point of conflict between Kenya and Uganda according to many different sources.
Likewise, Japan’s claim to Dokdo appears to be linked to economic interests too. It should be remembered that it was not until the 1990s that Japan made any claim to Dokdo as Japanese territory for over 30 years. Why did Japan start making claims at that time? In 1994, as the ‘United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas’ came into effect at the UN General Assembly, an exclusive economic zone was created in which the territorial sea, which was only 12 nautical miles from the country’s sea, was extended to 200 nautical miles, and accordingly Dokdo became important.
Dokdo is known for its rich natural resources such as methane hydrate, estimated to be worth about 150-200 trillion won. Therefore, Dokdo is rich in many such underground resources, making it a great target for Japan’s claim of sovereignty.
However, I’m also not to ruling out the fact that the dispute between these two islands will have a lot to do with the colonial era. If we well remember that the British did not initially state clearly where Migingo Island belonged, this is why we are still fighting for Migingo’s sovereignty.
The discussion between Kenya and Uganda who has a strong claim will be a debate that won’t stop now. On the other side of Dokdo, the discussion is pretty simple, one of Japan’s claims is that at the time the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed, it was referring to some Korean islands, and Dokdo was not included in the list.
This may sound reasonable, but the fact that the treaty didn’t have to mention all of the many islands Korea has, some of the islands larger than Dokdo were excluded, which would be absurd if it meant that they were not Korean territory.
As I said at the beginning of this article, Dokdo and Migingo have a lot in common especially when it comes to the start of their conflicts. If you’re familiar with Migingo’s history and current affairs, you’ll know that it’s truly still a contested zone.
Kenyans and Ugandans alike live on the island, and although both Kenyan and Ugandan police and army officers keep the law on the island, the difference with Dokdo comes to the fact it’s only the Korean Government that keeps order on the Island.
It can also be seen from another fact that the only way to visit this Island even for Japaneese is through Ullengdo, another nearby Korean Island.
To Koreans, Dokdo is not a disputed area. It is clearly Korean territory historically, geographically, and under international law. A symbolic example is that a Spanish senator showed an old map showing Dokdo as Korean territory to President Moon Jae-in, who visited the Senate Library in Madrid, Spain, in June 2021. Dokdo is mentioned in maps produced by the Japanese Ministry of the Navy, in Korean maps, and in history books.
The Korean government is also firm in its position that Dokdo is not subject to diplomatic negotiations or judicial settlement with other countries. Therefore, South Korea’s position is that there is no need to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on this issue.
Despite the similarities, the differences between these two islands are also clearly visible.
This writer, Derrick Rogers Malumba, is a Ugandan student in Seoul, South Korea.
Sungkyunwan University (SKKU), Korea.