Boundary dispute that’s an embarrassment to Kenya

By Isaiah Lucheli

He is the country’s Immigration minister, but when Otieno Kajawang’ tried to access the Kenyan border with Sudan last year, he was blocked by Sudanese soldiers manning roadblocks right inside Kenyan territory.

This meant that the humiliated minister could not open an immigration office at the Nadapal border post.
Security officers patrol Nadapal area following incursions by Toposa militiamen from Southern Sudan.

Kajwang said Internal Security Minister Prof George Saitoti and a Kenyan military commander had also been turned back by SPLA soldiers at different times earlier.

Regrettably, six months later the Kenyan Government is yet to open an immigration office at Nadapal. Following the conflict, the offices were opened 12 kilometres from the border at Kibes where Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) used to have its camp during its fight with the Khartoum government.

However, Southern Sudan has its immigration offices at Nadapal.

Nadapal is a border point that has lately generated more disputes between the two countries than friendly relations between the people living along the common border.

Cause of conflict

The boundary dispute has given rise to rampant insecurity, which has forced the Government to deploy military personnel and police officers to the border.

The dispute has affected trade and peace that had been thriving between the Toposa community of Sudan and Kenya’s Turkana leading to an escalation of fierce fighting that has so far claimed over 40 lives. About 4,000 livestock have also been stolen.

During the 25 years of civil war between Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and the Sudan Government in Khartoum, majority of South Sudanese people sought refuge in Lokichoggio, Nakeruman and Lochor Akope in Kenya and coexisted peacefully with locals.

However, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), which ushered in peace in South Sudan, the situation changed as the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan Government sought to establish its boundary hence encroaching into Kenya’s territory. This has led to protests from the Turkana.

Several Government delegations led by ministers George Saitoti (Internal Security), Otieno Kajwang’ (Immigration) and Moses Wetang’ula (Foreign Affairs) have held meetings with their Sudan counterpart without success.

The boundary issue aside, the major cause of dispute is the vast wetland of Nadapal near the border. It is a goldmine for the pastoralist communities due to availability of plenty of pasture and water.

General Service Unit (GSU), regular and Administration Police officers have been deployed near the Nadapal border to secure the area following the escalating attacks.

Leaders in Turkana accuse the SPLA of aiding the Toposa’s incursions but the Southern Sudan Government has denied the allegations.
A journalist stands outside the Immigration offices at Kibes near Lokichoggio town. Photos/ Peter Ochieng/Standard

SPLA involvement

On October 14 last year, Toposa raiders dressed in SPLA uniforms clashed with Kenyan police manning the border, an indication that SPLA could have fuelled the conflict.

Another pointer that SPLA might be supporting the conflict emerged when the Deputy Governor of the Eastern Equatorial State George Echoru asserted that Nadapal belonged to Sudan and insisted they would not surrender it to Kenya.

Echoru further said it was wrong for the Kenyan Government to deploy security forces at Nadapal as the territory belonged to Southern Sudan and vowed to mobilise Toposa to defend it.

"The Toposa will retaliate against any attempt by Kenya to take over Nadapal even if it means to the last Toposa," Echoru said during a meeting between delegations from the two countries.

The Turkana Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) Lokichoggio representative Peter Moru says the dispute erupted following the collapse of a peace agreement between the Toposa and Turkana.

"In the 1990s and early 2000 the communities had a peace agreement which enabled them to mingle and engage in barter trade, but when Sudanese government changed the administration in Kapoeta East County the clashes began," said Moru.

Moru says that the new leadership was against the gains made which led to the ban of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) brokering peace in the region in May 2008.

"The new leadership was not committed to peace but expansion of the existing boundaries. This led to the eruption of violence," said Moru. He explained that during the instability occasioned by the Sudan civil war, the Turkana hosted people fleeing the war zone. Majority of them settled in Lokichoggio and other neighbouring centres.

"We hosted them but they have turned against us and they have mounted 21 raids 11 of which were foiled. They have stolen 4,332 livestock," said Moru.

Emanuel Eregae, programme co-ordinator, Lokichoggio Peace Organisation (LOPEO) explained that over 210 households had been displaced by the attacks and were languishing in market centres.

A report released by LOPEO and CJPC indicated that Toposas successfully raided 10 times while Turkana foiled 10 attempts. About 14 Turkanas and 11 Toposas were killed, 13 people were injured.

Historical issues

The Executive Director of Arid Lands Integrated Programme Organisation, Pius Ewoton, said Nadapal border dispute showed there was need for strong leadership from the two communities.

"The dispute is not yesterday’s matter but a historical discrepancy and both governments should not get sucked into it and lose focus of the pertinent issue affecting the Turkana and Toposa," he said.

Ewoton explained the two governments must address infrastructural development of the region covering Ateker community in Ethiopia and Sudan and extending to Uganda.

"Museveni’s approach has transformed the neighbouring Karamojong’ region from a banditry zone to an economic front. Governments must get committed to economic development rather than being reactive to problems affecting the region," said Ewoton.

He noted that the conflict had a negative impact on cross-border trade and also scared away potential investors targeting South Sudan’s lucrative market.
Turkana North OCPD Ndung’u Waikonya during a security operation near Nadapal. Photos/ Peter Ochieng/Standard

"Currently Uganda has tripled its exports to Sudan unlike Kenya where the volumes are reducing drastically due to dilapidated infrastructure and insecurity," said Ewoton.

Turkana North MP John Munyes who is also the Minister for Labour expressed concern over the increasing cases of attacks but expressed confidence that the deploying of the security personnel had improved the situation.

"The number of raids has been increasing and I doubt if it is about the borderline. I think there are other underlying issues, which need to be addressed. The SPLA should deal with the Toposa to end incursions," he said.

He, however, reiterated the Government’s commitment to securing its border with neighbouring countries and added that the exercise had commenced.

"During a Cabinet meeting it was agreed that we secure our international borders and move all the immigration offices to the border. Other offices will also be established," said Munyes.

He explained that a meeting held between the two governments’ representatives at Lokichoggio and Nadapal had resolved to work on modalities to end the violence.

The minister said Turkana and Toposa professionals have been holding meetings with a view of ending the border dispute and enhancing peaceful coexistence between the two communities.

Assistant Minister for Internal Security Mr Orwa Ojode explained that both the Toposa and the Turkana did not know where the borderline was. He said this would be resolved by surveyors.

"Some of the border marks and even beacons have been vandalised and it is only prudent to wait for surveyors from both countries to clear the air. You remember the Migingo issue," said Ojode.

Government’s word

He said the Government had deployed more security forces to the border in order to curb the escalating cases of external aggression.

Ojode said the Government was in the process of procuring the latest surveillance equipment to monitor the porous border to combat illegal immigrants, trafficking and proliferation of small arms.

"We have already identified a company which will supply the equipments. After the installation it would be easy to monitor our borders," he said.

He said the boundary issue was being sorted out but warned that the Government would not sit back and watch its citizens being attacked by outsiders.

"As a Government we have a duty to defend our territory and protect our people and their property from external attacks and we will not fail to do our duty," said Ojode.

The Turkana North OCPD Ndung’u Waikonya explained that following the beefing up of security at Nadapal the attacks have reduced.

Waikonya added that border patrols had been intensified in the area and assured the people that their security was guaranteed.

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