Migingo, a tiny rock island on Lake Victoria, in Kenya, measures just 0.49 acres, but is officially home to 131 residents – although some sources put the population at around 1,000 – making it the most densely populated island in the world.
The so-called “Iron Clad Island” of Migingo (after the metal shack shanty town covering it almost entirely) has a very unclear history. According to some accounts, it was originally settled by two Kenyan fishermen, Dalmas Tembo and George Kibebe, who came here in 1991 and laid the foundation of today’s community. Others say that it was a Ugandan, Joseph Unsubuga, who came here first and then brought more of his fishing friends. It was this kind of contradicting stories, and the battle over the island’s fish-rich waters that created a long-standing conflict over the ownership of Migingo between Kenya and neighboring Uganda.
Migingo is technically located withing Kenyan territory, but the Ugandans claimed that fishermen were fishing in Ugandan waters, just 500 meters off the coast of the island. Known as “Africa’s smallest war”, the conflict between the two countries reached a boiling point in 2008, when Uganda sent its military to Migingo to evacuate Kenyan fishermen and take control of the island. Tensions were high for years after that, but in 2016, the two African nations finally reached an agreement. They would both tax the fishermen living on the island and each send a police force to deter pirates from attacking. Now, Kenyans and Ugandans live on Migingo peacefully.
Back in 2009, an official census put the population of Migingo at 131, already pretty high for a small, uninviting rock island, but the number of inhabitants has ballooned to around 1,000, according to a recent RT documentary. Drawn by the large population of Nile perch just waiting to be fished and sold to exporters, fishermen from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania flocked to Migingo and despite measures set in place to keep population under control, the place became packed to the point where there’s hardly any room to walk in the shanty town.
What’s really surprising about Migingo and its impressive population is that just a few meters away lies a much larger and completely uninhabited island called Usingo. Legend has it that the place is home to a demon, and fishermen are afraid to even set foot on it, let alone live there with their families. But it turns out that that is jst a rumor being propagated online. Locals haven’t even heard about any demons on Usingo, but they do have a very practical reason for staying on their overcrowded rock.
Despite permanent police presence both from Uganda and Kenya, pirate attacks still occur. They are not as frequent and violent as they used to be, but every few months fishermen do run into pirates looking to steal their catch and boat engines, sometimes even killing them in the process. But there is strength in numbers, so for most people it’s safer to live on the overcrowded Migingo than risk moving to Usingo and getting attacked by gangs of pirates in the night.
Migingo remains the world most densely populated island, but it may not hold that title for much longer. Due to over-fishing around the tiny rock island, the supply of Nile perch is dwindling, and people are starting to migrate to other more lucrative fishing spots. In 2009, a fishermen on Migingo made in a week, what other African workers made in 2-3 months, but today, the earnings have gone down considerably, and living on an overcrowded piece of rock just isn’t justified.