The African Dead Zone

The story of the largest piece of uninhabited land.


Sovereign Limits

Bir Tawil and Hala’ib

Mitchell Thompson, Reporter

Hala’ib is one of the strangest examples of foreign conflict to date. It is the largest uninhabited area of land on Earth, bordering both Sudan and Egypt. On January 19, 1899, Egypt signed an agreement with the United Kingdom that gave Sudan Bir Tawil, which is a mostly baron piece of land, while Egypt got the much more favorable Hala’ib. Hala’ib borders the Red Sea and is much more fertile, so Egypt tried to give Sudan Bir Tawil. However, on November 4, 1902, the U.K. decided to switch the offer and give Hala’ib to Sudan and give Bir Tawil to Egypt. This was not for no reason though, as Hala’ib was more culturally similar to Sudan.

Of course, Egypt was not a fan of this decision, so they insisted the 1899 border was the correct one, while Sudan sided with the 1902 border. Because of this confusion, neither country could really claim either Bir Tawil or Hala’ib as theirs. Bir Tawil ended up in a sort of limbo state, where until either country gives up Hala’ib, neither will be taken. This has and probably will never be resolved though, as the conflict is non-violent and generally not worth giving up. The fertility and water access are too enticing to leave on the table.

So what is in the future for Bir Tawil and Hala’ib? Well, while there will most likely not be any internal agreement, so the only way to fix this is one of two options. The areas could become their own territories, or they could merge into one territory. This would solve the conflict, but it would make Sudan and Egypt angry. Also, there are not many people in the area, and it is a very small space. The second option is having a third party decide who gets what land. This would make whoever got Hala’ib happy, but the other mad at both the third party and the opposing country. Also, nowadays countries try to stay out of each other’s business, especially now that the English empire is out of Africa. So it seems that Bir Tawil and Hala’ib will most likely be uninhabited for years to come. 

Shenker, J. (2016, March 3). Welcome to the land that no country wants. The Guardian. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from