Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Delimitation of the Elastic Ilemi Triangle: Pastoral Conflicts and Official Indifference in the Horn of Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Delimitation of the Elastic Ilemi Triangle: Pastoral Conflicts and Official Indifference in the Horn of Africa

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article observes that although scholars have addressed the problem of the inherited colonial boundaries in Africa, there are lacunae in our knowledge of the complexity of demarcating the Kenya-Sudan-Ethiopia tri-junctional point known as the Ilemi Triangle. Apart from being a gateway to an area of Sudan rich in unexplored oil reserves, Ilemi is only significant for its dry season pastures that support communities of different countries. By analyzing why, until recently, the Ilemi has been 'unwanted' and hence not economically developed by any regional government, the article aims to historically elucidate differences of perception and significance of the area between the authorities and the local herders. On the one hand, the forage-rich pastures of Ilemi have been the casus belli (cause for war) among transhumant communities of Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya, and an enigma to colonial surveyors who could not determine their 'ownership' and extent. On the other hand, failure to administer the region in the last century reflects the lack of attractiveness to the authorities that have not agreed on security and grazing arrangements for the benefit of their respective nomadic populations. This article places the disputed 'triangle' of conflict into historical, anthropological, sociological and political context. The closing reflections assess the future of the dispute in view of the current initiative by the USA to end the 19-year-old civil war in Sudan and promote the country's relationship with her neighbors particularly Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. However, the author is cynical of attempts to enhance international security and political stability that do not embrace 'peoples of the periphery', such as the herders of Ilemi, into the economic, social, and political rhythm of the mainstream society.

INTRODUCTION

This article is about Ilemi, a triangular piece of land joining Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia described in some records as measuring 14,000 square kilometers and 10,320 square kilometers in others. (1) It lies north of the equator between latitude (deg min) 5 00N and longitude 35 30N and is variously defined as Ethiopia (claimed), Kenya (de facto), and, Sudan (claimed). (2) By analyzing why until now the Ilemi Triangle has been 'unwanted' hence not economically developed by any regional government the article aims to historically elucidate differences of perception and significance of the area between the authorities and the local herders. (3) Ilemi is on the fringe of southern Sudan, which is rich in unexplored oil. Nevertheless, no explorations have been made in the contested territory partly due to insecurity from the 19-year civil war in southern Sudan and partly due to a hands-off attitude by each regional government. It lacks any infrastructure or modern facilities and is so insulated that its only reminder of the 'outside world' is a Kenyan frontier post. Even so, Ilemi is so precious that its dry-season pastures have been the focus of incessant conflicts among transhumant communities and an enigma to boundary surveyors who previously failed to determine its precise extent and breadth.

The article begins with a brief anthropological description of the transhumant communities of Ilemi before tracing the evolution of the problem. There follows a critical analysis of colonial meridians that slice through pastoral country and an attempt to understand the 'hands-off' policy by successive governments of the region. The conclusion reflects on the future of the dispute given the current national and international attempts to stabilize the region. My overall objective is to contribute to our understanding of African boundaries that are still in dispute for not respecting local opinion such as customary pastures for transhumant populations particularly where colonial surveyors failed to follow permanent terrain features.

Our search for understanding the dispute begins with colonial treaties and arbitrary boundaries. …

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