KAYUMBA JOHN USED TO SIT IN HIS OFFICE by the shore of Lake Victoria, in Kasensero, Uganda, and watch boats arriving at dawn. While the crews onboard sold Nile perch—a freshwater fish found in the Nile river and its tributaries—fishmongers packed them into refrigerators in trucks bound for Kampala.
“When you look in the country, there is no other profitable activity like fishing,” Kayumba, the former chairman of the local beach management unit, told me, with a hint of pride in his voice, as we sat in his office in April 2015. “It is us fishermen who have educated our children in good schools, alongside those politicians and well-off people,” he added. Lake Victoria, the largest body of freshwater in Africa, surrounds Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and it affects lives and livelihoods thousands of miles beyond the shore. The majority of fish are sold in Europe, making the fishing industry one of few—alongside coffee and tea—with a lucrative export market.
Over the last two decades thousands of migrants across the country abandoned subsistence farming, their traditional occupation, and jumped at the chance to make a quick fortune in the burgeoning fish market. The frenetic growth of the fish market led to overfishing, causing the catch to dwindle. Fishermen had to travel deeper into the lake to locate fish; this intensified the hazards of an already dangerous profession, as boats would often capsize or break apart. Alcoholism and gambling soared in the town, particularly among fishermen, sex workers, truckers and those involved in the unpredictable and risky fishing industry. HIV rates in Kasensero—which recorded the first case of an AIDS epidemic in Uganda in 1982—escalated.
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