South Sudan’s Governors Grapple with Disputed Ilemi Triangle: Divergent Views Emerge on Reclamation and Administration
The discussion on the contentious issue of reclaiming disputed territories in South Sudan took center stage on the third day of the governors’ forum in Juba. Divergent opinions among leaders marked the discourse.
First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar advocated for the establishment of an administration in the Ilemi Triangle, situated along the northern border of Kenya, asserting that it rightfully belongs to South Sudan. He emphasized the intention to deploy unified forces and police in the area post-graduation.
“Ilemi Triangle is South Sudan. There are three lines that the British took from the original first line: South Sudan. There were other two lines made to grant Turkana grazing rights, but South Sudan was in them,” Machar asserted, highlighting the presence of SPLA-IO forces in Kangateng and Kalarob.
However, Minister of Information, Communication, Technology, and Postal Services, Michael Makuei, cautioned against hasty solutions, characterizing the Ilemi Triangle as a disputed area with complex issues. Makuei argued for prioritizing internal conflict resolution before addressing border disputes.
“Ilemi is a disputed area. Yes, in the first place, it was ours, but now it is not ours; it is a disputed area. Just like the dispute with Sudan now. We have disputes with the North because we did not know what the borders were by then,” Makuei explained, urging a focus on internal problems.
The Ilemi Triangle, spanning approximately 11,000 square kilometers, is a contested region in East Africa claimed by both South Sudan and Kenya, with Ethiopia as a neighboring country. Despite incursions by border tribes from Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government has not officially staked a claim, acknowledging Sudanese ownership in treaties dating back to 1902, 1907, and 1972.
Kenya currently exercises de-facto control over the entire Ilemi Triangle up to the northern 1950 Sudanese Patrol Line. The dispute originated from the 1914 treaty, which utilized a straight parallel line to delineate territories within the British Empire. Nomadic Turkana herders continued to traverse the border, complicating matters.
The prolonged resolution of the dispute is attributed to the perceived economic marginality of the land and the enduring conflicts in Sudan over the decades.