Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 17 July 2005

Kenya’s claim over Sudan, Ethiopia border triangle precarious


By Peter Mwaura, The Daily Nation

July 16, 2005 — Did John Garang cut a secret deal with former President Daniel arap Moi to hand over the south eastern corner of the Sudan to Kenya in return for logistical and moral support in the Sudan civil war or something else? Or did President Moi make a covert agreement with the Khartoum government to cede the Ilemi Triangle in exchange for stopping military support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) through Turkana warriors?

Whatever the theory, Kenya’s claim to sovereignty over the territory at the corner of Kenya-Sudan-Ethiopia boundary is precarious - in the absence of a treaty or legislative mandate. It would only take a change of regime or mind in Khartoum to scuttle the claims and international law would probably be on the side of Sudan.

The Ilemi Triangle - named after a famous chief of the Anuak, a community living along Sudan’s eastern border with Ethiopia - is larger than the Republic of the Gambia, or 10 times the area of Kiambu District. It is the gateway to the unexplored oil reserves in southern Sudan and is itself suspected to have minerals.

Kenya came to occupy the Ilemi Triangle by default. Sudan - then under joint Anglo-Egyptian rule - did not want it because, according to the preliminary expedition that tried to occupy and administer the territory around 1930, it appeared to be "entirely useless".

The Ilemi Triangle was, therefore, created for the administrative convenience of Sudan. The Turkana, who roamed over the hilly pastures with their livestock during the dry season, needed to be protected from violent raids by the well-armed Dassanetch, Nyangatom and Toposa rival communities and other raiders from Ethiopia and Sudan.

In 1928, Khartoum gave Kenya permission to send military units across the border in "hot pursuit" in order to protect the Turkana. Units of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) then moved into the triangle and by 1947 Kenya had seven police posts in the territory. Today Ilemi is solely controlled and administered by Kenya. This is not surprising. Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is too big. It is so huge that no central government in Khartoum - not even the British - has ever effectively controlled it.

After Sudan achieved independence in 1956, Sudanese forces in the south rebelled and civil war followed, which delayed the settlement of Sudan’s poorly delimited borders. With the renewed interest in prospecting for minerals in the vast territory, and now that the civil war is over, Khartoum is likely to turn its attention to the Ilemi Triangle.

But the case of the Ilemi Triangle has been complicated by history. Before President Moi came to power in 1978 maps of Kenya showed the country’s northern boundary with Sudan as a straight line drawn from the tip of Lake Rudolf (now Turkana) westwards to the north of Lokichoggio. Named the Maud Line, after Capt Philip Maud of the British Royal Engineers who delimited the boundary in 1902-03, the straight line was recognized in 1907 and 1914 as the international boundary between Sudan and Kenya. Above the Maud Line, the maps also showed the Ilemi Triangle in dotted lines with the words "Provisional/administrative boundary".

After 1978, however, the dots disappeared from official Kenya maps and have been replaced by a continuous line, suggesting that the frontier territory now belongs to Kenya. But the Maud Line, some writers claim, is the only recognized international border. Not everybody agrees that the Maud Line is the international boundary. One of them is Maurice Amutabi, a Moi University lecturer currently on leave and teaching in the United States. Dr Amutabi, whose PhD research was on the Ilemi Triangle, holds that the territory belongs to Kenya.

He argues that it was transferred to Kenya with the Kitgum (Uganda) Agreement of 1924 by representatives of Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. This agreement ceded the administrative rights over the triangle to Kenya. "Whoever puts dots on the map is making a mistake," he says. "The boundaries remain binding just like the transfer from Uganda of western Kenya and Turkana in the 1920 agreement between Kenya Colony and the Uganda Protectorate."

He thinks, however, that "the triangle is going to be another Bakassi Peninsular if the government of Kenya does not move fast and improve the Kibish outposts and make the ownership position clear internationally."

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