Sunday, 24 February 2019 22:51:11

The Evolution of Kenya's Borders Since Berlin Conference

From British East Africa to the Republic of Kenya


The border dispute between Kenya and Somalia reminds me of the hostility between Kenya and Uganda in the 1970s. Idd Amin, the then president of Uganda, claimed the section of Kenya west of Naivasha was a part of Uganda, so he wanted to use military force to reclaim it.

Kenyans protested Amin's ambitions, and they burnt his effigies in demonstrations that the government of Kenya organised. Speakers said no section of Kenya has ever been a part of Uganda, and they described Amin as a megalomaniac who wanted to annex Kenya's territory.

History, however, shows that Amin's claims were not entirely baseless. Kenya's boundary has changed several times in the last 120 years, and there was a time Kenya, Uganda, and Somalia were siamese triplets.

At the Berlin Conference of 1885, Britain was allocated territory in Eastern Africa called British East Africa. It was a vast territory comprising present-day Kenya, present-day Uganda, and the Jubaland Region of present-day Somalia (Areas A, B, C, D, and E). The port city of Kismayu in present-day Somalia was part of British East Africa.

Initially, Britain asked a private company, called Imperial British East African Company (IBEA), to administer this territory on her behalf. However, IBEA went bankrupt, and Britain took direct control in 1895. For ease of administration, it split the territory into two autonomous units:

(1) The Uganda Protectorate (Areas A, B, and C on the map), and

(2) The British East Africa Protectorate (Areas D and E on the map).

There was also a third unit (Area F) that included most present-day Kwale, Mombasa, and Kilifi counties and part of the Somali coast south of Kismayu. This area was part of the Zanzibar protectorate that Britain administered on behalf of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

The headquarters of the Protectorate was Entebbe, and that of the British East Africa Protectorate was in Mombasa.

The British East Africa Protectorate stretched from River Juba in present-day Somalia to the Eastern escarpment of the Rift Valley.

The Uganda Protectorate included present-day Uganda and all the territory in present-day Kenya that is West of the eastern escarpment of Rift Valley.

If this boundary was not changed, the following counties would today be in Uganda: Narok, Nakuru, Baringo, Kericho, Bomet, Kisii, Nyamira, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, Turkana, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, Vihiga, Siaya, and Parts of Kajiado.

Lake Magadi, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, Lake Baringo, and Lake Bogoria would be in Uganda, and Lake Turkana would be partly in Kenya and partly in Uganda.

Why was the boundary changed?

Between 1896 and 1901, Britain built a railway line from Mombasa to Kisumu, the single most expensive infrastructure region. On its completion, the Colonial Office decided to keep it within the jurisdiction of one administration. It, therefore, shifted the boundary westward in 1902. As a result, the Uganda Protectorate shrunk in size to include only Areas A and B; and the British East Africa Protectorate expanded to include Areas C, D, and E.

The expanded British East Africa Protectorate was renamed Colony of Kenya in 1920.

In 1925, Britain handed over Juba Region (Area E) to Italian Somalia to appreciate its support for the allies in the first world war. Juba Region is the territory between the Juba River and Kenya's present-day eastern border.

To compensate the Colony of Kenya for the loss of Area E to Italian Somalia, Britain handed over control of Area B from Uganda to Kenya in 1926.

The Zanzibar Protectorate became part of Kenya in 1963, after negotiations between the Sultan of Zanzibar and Kenya's independence government. If this did not happen, Kenya's border along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway would be at Mariakani.


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