Kenya and South Sudan – the border question resurfaces?

The dotted line of doom: Google's version of the disputed Kenya-South Sudan border

The dotted line of doom: Google’s version of the disputed Kenya-South Sudan border

I’ve been asked recently about the border between South Sudan and Kenya, and how recently, Eastern Equatoria officials have asked for the border to be demarcated, ostensibly to help administration and stop local disputes.

While I don’t want to step on any toes, I’d like to post up my response here, not just about the UK’s potential role in ‘helping’ with this.

Basically, all the borders of South Sudan, not just The Border, are subject to disputes.  Between Kenya and South Sudan is the Ilemi Triangle, a subject of extreme dispute (and intensive raiding and local violence) for over a hundred years; land between Uganda and South Sudan is also disputed; and the borders with Ethiopia are interesting, as Gambella was loaned to Sudan for administration in the early 20th century.  And obviously, the borders with CAR and DRC are extremely flexible in practice.

The obvious response to EE officials is – yes, the British Government (as well as various institutions like the Sudan Archives at Durham University, and the UK National Archives) will hold documents that will provide evidence for borders demarcation.  This is exactly the same situation as happened with attempts to demarcate Abyei, and now with the North-South border demarcation issues.

Similarly, this will not be easy.  While there is far more ‘evidence’ – i.e., documentary records, maps, letters, reports etc. – on the Ilemi Triangle and the broader Sudan-Kenya border area than there is on the Sudan-South Sudan border, this is still a remote region, and British officials from both the Sudan condominium and the Kenya colonial governments failed to demarcate any particularly helpful or locally adhered-to line in their time.  Evidence from the South Sudan National Archives would be helpful, as long as the South Sudan government is willing and able to support the work of the Ministry of Culture and the Rift Valley Institute in ordering and preserving the fragile records there.

Basically, there is no silver bullet to any border demarcation, whether with Sudan or with Kenya: South Sudan’s borders have always been remote, sporadically and distantly administrated, badly drawn (and recorded), and sites of mass migration and dispute.  The British have consistently provided all the documents on the North-South border – there’s no incentive to hold anything back! – and I think they should, and will, again; but there will be no ‘map’ of this border either.

Previous post on border resources can be found here.

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5 Comments

Filed under Current affairs, Politics, South Sudan

5 responses to “Kenya and South Sudan – the border question resurfaces?

  1. Ade

    It’s worth noting that oil exploration recently began in and around this area. Here are some announcements by Nairobi-licensed companies:

    http://erhc.com/kenya/

    http://www.bowleven.com/kenya-Assets.asp

    http://www.adamantineenergy.com/e&p/kenya.php (I like that it’s a S.Sudanese take on the border in the Adamantine map!)

  2. Ade

    began again* (there was exploration previously in the 1980s and c.2007)

  3. Excellent argument once again! I’ll never forget a presentation on Ilemi by the late grandmaster Bob Collins at the SSA conference in Washington DC ten years ago. If I remember correctly, he mentioned that one colonial officer used a creek to demarcate some part of a boundary there, but since then that creek has changed its course! I thought that a brillant anecdote to illustrate the fictionality of borders.

  4. Pingback: Africa Blog Roundup: Susan Rice, Mali, Darfur, Kenyan IDPs, and More | Sahel Blog

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