Can you be in two countries at once? The Abyei Question

Abyei Question

Can you be in two countries simultaneously at the same time? Well it turns out that you can, and no we are not talking about the Vatican City, or being in an embassy, this the strange tale of the Abyei Condominium!

To read about visiting 3 countries in one city click here.

Is it possible to be in two countries at the same time?

So, for us at least this is a very interesting question and we have looked at lots of different angles before answering it. There is the question of embassies, which to an extent have extraterritorial status. This means that if you are in the DPRK embassy for example, while in London then you are kinda in North Korea.

To read about North Korean embassies click here.

The two big points here though is that no one counts visiting an embassy as visiting a country and more importantly even if you did, you step from to the other, therefore never simultaneously being in both.

There are then of course buildings such as those on Panmunjom, or Cyprus where half the building is in one state, while the other is, well in the other. Again this draws the same conclusion…..

Which begs the question, what brought up the question anyway?

Bir Tawil and a Box

If you have not heard of Bir Tawil then this is a place that ALMOST fits this criteria. Essentially it is a bit of land between Egypt and Sudan that neither claims, which makes it the only terra nullus on the planet – AKA no mans  land.

To read the Strange tale of Bir Tawil click here

To read about the Men in No Mans Land click here.

Again though while some might argue you are in Egypt and Sudan concurrently, both countries would argue that you are in neither, so again does not perfectly fit our criteria.

And it was on our trip to Bir Tawil that we noticed  “the box”

The Box AKA Abyei

South Sudan family fought long war for independence only to end up making the least imaginative country name since its neighbour the Central African Republic. Things since the conflict have largely chilled, but there are still a heap of tissues, one of which id Abyei.

You will notice Abyei when you look at a map as a box, almost like a country between Sudan and South Sudan. This obviously drew our attention, so we asked our guide Abdullah who simply replied “Well it is not Sudan, nor South Sudan, well actually it is both”.

Clearly more research was to be done….

The Abyei Question

Essentially the area known as Abyei, which is a mighty 10,546 square kilometres, and a population of over 125,000 people, which were it to become nation would make it a decent sized one.

Essentially it is split between people who associate with South Sudan, represented by the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Arab nomads of the area represented by the government of the Republic of Sudan.

The current Abyei Area Administration

As a compromise the Abye Area Administration was setup in 2009, lea by the SPLM, but with the rest of the posts shared between them and the Sudanese government until a referendum could be agreed upon.

Said referendum was supposed to take place in 2011, but alas did not and since then there has pretty much been non-stop fighting, with both sides accusing the other of being in the wrong.

One of the main sticking pints for the referendum was who would qualify to vote, with the worries that the nomadic Arabs would inflate their numbers (from a southern perspective) and that they might vote to join South Sudan (from a northern perspective).

Abyei in 2022

What we know currently is that the place is bitterly divided, but that the protocol is in place to some degree with Kuol D. Kuol a former South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SPLA) general acting as the chief administrator of the Abyei Area since June 29, 2020.

Tourism wise, pretty much no one other goes here, or has been here, save some NGO types, but as always with YPT, we are working on things….

So, how can you be in two countries at once?

Quite literally one of the only things that both sides agree on is that the people of Abyei are simultaneously citizens of both Sudan and South Sudan and the area is both Sudan AND South Sudan until its future is resolved.

In the meantime though it simply represents the only place in the world where you can be in two countries at the same time!

Want to join us for Sudan in 2023? Then check out our tour.