Kenya plans for ‘anti-terror’ Somalia border wall; here are six other border barriers in Africa

Manned by an estimated 120,000 men, the Moroccan Wall is the longest and oldest functioning security barrier.

SOMALIA’S Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants attacked a Kenyan university at dawn, killing 15 students and wonding over 60.

The gunmen divided students at the northeastern Garissa University near the border with Somalia, between Muslims and non-Muslims, letting the Muslim students go.

They said the attack was in revenge for Nairobi’s troops fighting in Somalia. Shabaab wants Kenya, which is part of the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, to withdraw its forces.

Kenya recently announced plans to build a border wall on its porous and dangerous border with troubled Somalia, and the latest attack might help garner interest from most people who had dismissed the idea of a wall as fanciful.

The wall is expected to cut the flow of illegal immigrants and security threats into Kenya. Al-Shabaab militants have previously exploited the open border, and in a recently released propaganda video, the militants detailed their border crossing in June 2014.

They attacked several villages in Lamu and killed tens of residents in a carnage that lasted three days.

The debate as whether border walls really work or they just complicate already grim situations, can only be expected to get more heated. The proponents of the barrier, will be looking to the several already existing border walls on the African continent. And it is surprising how many of them there are:

Moroccan wall

The most formidable border wall in the world cuts through Western Sahara and stretches to Southern Morocco. The Moroccan Wall (Berm) was built in 6 stages starting from August 1980. The last portion was finished in April 1987. At 2,700 km long, the Berm is 12 times longer than the Berlin Wall. It has also stood longer than the Berlin Wall was when it was toppled.

The Berm is made of sand and stone and now includes fixed and mobile radars. It is one and a half meters wide and 2 to three meters tall and has command posts every two miles. It has barbed wire, motion sensors and land mines. The wall is sometimes called Hassan’s Wall after the Moroccan monarch who annexed Spanish Sahara after Spain pulled out in 1976.

The primary purpose of the wall is to prevent Saharawi people, who live as refugees in Algeria, from returning to their land. The areas east of the wall is called the Free Zone and is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Manned by an estimated 120,000 men, the Moroccan Wall is the longest and oldest functioning security barrier. It has an estimated 7 million antitank and antipersonnel landmines. The number of people who have died while trying to cross the Berm is unknown.

Egypt and Gaza Strip

After Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip with Egypt in 2005, Egypt began building an 11-km long fence. The wall stretches 18 meters below the surface. Made of super-strength steel, the fence fits like a jigsaw puzzle. It was built to cut smuggling tunnels that cut under the borderlines. 

The barrier is bombproof and cannot be cut or melted. It was added to an existing 3-meter high stone wall with two meters of barbed wire at the top. The underground section is also said to have motion sensors and hoses that can be used to flood tunnels with sea water.

The tunnels are used by Palestinians to smuggle everyday items they are denied by the blockade. The tunnels are operated by Hamas and other organisations, and is used to smuggle weapons. Hamas actually charges a tax for individuals and organisations to operate the lucrative underground tunnels. 

The Palestinians breached the border in 2008 and blew up parts of the wall, allowing anywhere between 200,000 and 700,000 people to access the Egyptian towns of Arish and Rafah.

The Snake of Fire

Built in 1984, the Snake of Fire is a 268km border fence that separates South Africa and Zimbabwe. It replaced an earlier natural hedge of sisal plants sown between 1980 and 1983. The dates coincide with Zimbabwe’s independence with Canaan Banana as president and Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister.

As liberation heroes, they posed an existential threat to apartheid South Africa. The apartheid movement sought to solve this by building an electrified pyramidal core with two barrier fences. The fence is 5 meters in width and had echo stations manned by 10 men at 10 kilometre intervals. It was branded the “Snake of Fire” because it was set to administer a lethal electric shock to anyone who came into contact with it. Today, parts of it remain as relics of the apartheid era.

South Africa/Mozambique, the other Snake of Fire

The border fence between Mozambique and South Africa also stands as a reminder of a time when South Africa was ruled by an apartheid government. Construction of some parts started in the 1940s, but the major works began in 1975. FRELIMO had just taken power in Mozambique in an armed rebellion. Having a militant government right next door was very unnerving for the apartheid government.

FRELIMO would almost certainly give the ANC an operational base from where it could extend its campaign for independence.

Both South African and Rhodesian authorities began overt and covert operations against FRELIMO. They poured resources into the coffers of its main enemy, RENAMO. On its border, South Africa set up 120 kilometres of a border fence. The fences stretch over the rough mountain from Swaziland’s border on the south to the Kruger National Park in the north.

The fence was designed as five huge circles of razor wire that formed a python-like structure. It was 10 feet high and 15 feet wide. South Africa then weaved 10 strands of tiny wire through the circles of the razor wire, electrifying it with 3,500 volts. The fence killed 94 people between 1986 and 1989. An unknown number of people died from being shot by rebel forces and commando units while trying to cross into South Africa. Like the Berlin Wall, this border fence also had a “death strip.”

In 2012, Mozambique and South African officials met to consider re-erecting 150km of the fence. The purpose this time would be to curb poaching in Kruger National Park.

Botswana/Zimbabwe

In 2003, Botswana announced plans to build a 500km electric fence on its border with Zimbabwe. The 8ft high wall was built to prevent an influx of foot and mouth disease, although Zimbabwean authorities claim that its primary purpose was to stop illegal human migration.

Between 2000 and 2003, two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth were reported in the regions around the border. Botswana has a lucrative beef trade with the European Union that makes the industry the second highest foreign exchange earner after diamonds. The wall remains a source of tension between the two southern African countries.

Spain/Morocco

Perhaps the most well-known border fences in Africa, the border walls between Morocco and Spanish enclaves have been the subject of media attention in recent years. In one poignant picture, a group of golfers focuses on their game as tens of immigrants try to climb over the wall behind them.

There are two border fences between Spain and Morocco at Melilla and Ceuta.  The Ceuta fence is controversial because Morocco does not recognize Spain’s claim over the North African city. The first wall was built in 1993 and was 8.4 km long. A second wall was added from 1995. 

In 2005, the Spanish government commissioned the building of a third wall next to the two existing ones. The 11km fence cost 33 million Euros to build and is topped with barbed wire. It is 6 meters high and has motion, video cameras, noise sensors and spotlights.

In 2014 alone, 14, 000 migrants tried to sneak into Melilla, and only 2, 000 of them succeeded. In an earlier incident, 15 people died in a single attempt to cross the border.

The interesting thing is that even the first of the three fences is inside Spain. If you are on the outer perimeter of the enclave, you are already in Spain. Morocco refused to let any Spanish construction machinery on its soil in 1998, forcing the development to take place within Spanish territory. Madrid insists on the “operational border” which is set where the last line of border guards stand.

Morocco is currently adding a ditch and another fence about 500 metres long. The fence will be five yards high and will be topped with blades. The ditch will have razor wire as an added measure to make it harder for immigrants to sneak into Spain. Desperate immigrants are, however, getting creative; a 19-year-old Malian man recently tried to sneak into Melilla in a suitcase.

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