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Why Kenya will forever regret rejecting part of Sudan

 Turkana warriors pass by a skull of a Dassenach warrior who was, according to a Turkana warrior, killed when he tried to ambush Turkana cattle herders in Ilemi Triangle, Kenya March 26, 2019. Picture taken on March 26, 2019. [Reuters]

How is it that peace can defy a piece of shade-less, water-less piece of cotton soil for over 125 years? If Captain Philip Maud of the Royal Engineers was to rise from the dead today he'd go to Kenya's border with Sudan, Ethiopia and Sudan, where he drew a red line 120 years ago.

Maud had attempted to fix the international boundary in 1903 after Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia attempted to annex Lake Turkana in 1898 and even drew a border extending from this lake to the Indian Ocean.

From then on, the destiny of the 5,400 square miles of shrubland has been debated in London, Rome, Khartoum, Nairobi and Adis Ababa, with very limited success 

Welcome to the Ilemi triangle which owes its name to a nondescript chief Ilemi Akuon.

Despite its deficiencies such as the lack of water and pasture most of the time, this arid land has been contested by rulers of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan since 1898.

There were attempts to draw the border which resulted in red, blue and green lines on the map of the area, indicating to which country the rectangle belonged.

But as the foreign occupation forces squabble over Ilemi, the indigenous people, Turkana (Kenya) Didinga and Toposa in Sudan, Nyangatom of Sudan and Dassenach of Ethiopia have continued quarrelling over water and grazing rights.

Uganda ceded its claim when it surrendered the Rudolph Province in 1926 to Kenya, leaving Ethiopia, Nairobi and Sudan to continue with the disputes.

When Sudan was given an opportunity to administer the area from Khartoum, the administrators thought it was too costly. Kenya on the other hand was willing to administer Ilemi on condition Khartoum contributed £20,000(Sh3,029,746), but backed off.  

When Kenya was offered the opportunity to extend its boundaries to cover the disputed territory in 1931, the governor, Joseph Aloysius Byrne's curt reply was, "I am unable to agree to an extension of this country’s frontier with Ethiopia, nor do I propose any revision of the Kenya-Sudan boundary.”

By 1947, Kenya had established seven police posts, 200 police officers and an equal number of tribal officers inside Sudan where they even operated military bases to contain herders from Ethiopia.

The arms race in the region started in 1917 and escalated in 1945 when Britain massed its troops from Sudan, Kenya and Uganda to fight against the Italians who had taken over Ethiopia. By the time Sudan gained independence in 1956, Italy had long exited Ethiopia and none of the temporary boundaries had been ratified.

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