Born out of the disagreement over the hydrocarbon-rich Bakassi peninsula, the border dispute had led to an armed conflict between the two countries. Following the 10 October 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the subsequent bipartisan agreements signed, the UN secretary-general set up a joint commission in November 2002. It was tasked with facilitating the implementation of legal and political decisions. The process of establishing a border along the 2,100km stretch between the two countries was initiated. It is now almost complete.
However, there is still one problem. The commission’s experts have come up against 13 reference points corresponding to 100km of the route. It is important to bear in mind that it was following an agreement signed in 1913 between the two colonial powers of the time, Great Britain and the Germany, that the land and sea borders between Cameroon and Nigeria were drawn.
Breaking the deadlock
As the Bakassi border dispute arose from disagreements over different interpretations of the results collected from using border demarcation instruments, the countries sought the ICJ’s jurisdiction. The ICJ ruled, but even after announcing its decision members of the two delegations have often proposed interpretations that contradicted those of the Court, creating an impasse.
“At first glance, it is on points of reference that the experts disagree. But beware, on the ground, these reference points can determine on which side of the border this or that village, this or that cross-border ethnic community will be located,” says a member of the commission. According to our information, the two delegations have already given assurances that they agree on five reference points. This successful outcome will be made official in Abuja.
However, there are still eight points of reference to be negotiated during the session in the Nigerian capital. Some of them will have an impact on the types of petroleum exploration permits granted by one or both of the two countries to international companies.
Towards a definitive map
If the session in February succeeds in smoothing out all the contentious issues, Cameroon and Nigeria would then be ready to submit a definitive border map to the UN.
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Finalising a clearly defined border between the two countries would be no small achievement on a continent where, according to the African Union Border Programme created in 2007, around 70% of the roads are not clearly demarcated. Some are even considered unknown.
This will be the last session chaired by Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the special representative of the secretary-general for West Africa and the Sahel. His term will end in 2021 and he wishes to complete the dossier before his departure.
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