Africa

The Ugandans living on an island floating in Lake Victoria

Residents by the flagpole

A piece of land has broken off Uganda's mainland and has been floating around Lake Victoria for close to four months. The BBC's Patience Atuhaire met the artists who have set up home there.

As we approach the island, the first thing that stands out is the Ugandan flag on an improvised pole high above the greenery.

Resident Labatin Mwiima says the flag pole acts as a reference point, by which to judge how far the 20-acre island has moved.

"You wake up in the morning and see different scenery. One evening we went to sleep at Port-bell Landing site, and we woke up in Ggaba," he says.

The two landing sites are about 20 minutes apart by boat.

While this has not been independently verified, the island is said to have been seen from at least three landing sites near the capital, Kampala.

Mr Mwiima says a friend lured him to come to the island. He is a reggae musician and finds the environment relaxing and good for creativity.

It is not clear whether by coincidence or design, but all 10 of the island's occupants are artists.

Image caption The island has been named Mirembe which means peace in Luganda

Ali Katongole, a painter, says he was drawn to the island because of its simple lifestyle, away from the hustle and bustle of a big city like Kampala.

Fittingly, it is called Mirembe, which means peace in Luganda.

Image caption All of the houses on the island are grass thatch

The residents are all men, living in grass-thatched huts.

Some live there permanently, while others paddle local canoes every few days to go back to their homes in Kampala.

It remains a long way from the other countries that share Lake Victoria - Tanzania and Kenya.

The residents say the idea that the island might get submerged doesn't occur to them, because you cannot actually feel it moving.

But Geoffrey Kamese from the Uganda Association of Professional Environmentalists, who has visited it, expresses caution.

"People should be careful and not continue farming on it, because the soil could become even weaker and sink in," he warns.

Neat gardens of cassava, maize, beans and even bananas share space with the natural vegetation.

Image caption Some of the people on the island get a boat out every day

The ground is soggy, and most of the crops are planted on mounds of soil, with ditches full of water running in between.

Wild birds and chickens thrive on the bounty provided by the swamp vegetation.

Mr Kamese has a theory as to how it came to be floating: There could have been water beneath the land before, and due to heavy rains, the roots of plants gave way and the patch of land floated away.

"It is possible that due to the changes happening in our weather, the amount of water in the lake increased and the soil became loose," he says.

The National Environment Management Authority say people are risking their lives and has warned people to stay off the island

And the islanders say they are ready to go wherever the waves carry them.

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