By Daniel O’Boyle
Natural features such as rivers often seem like obvious points for political borders.
However, nature is often subject to change, which can cause huge problems around border areas.
Much of the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is set along the Semliki River, a meandering river that has changed course over 100 times since the DRC gained independence in 1960. The river was set as the border between the Belgian Congo and British Ugandan Protectorate by the two colonial powers and despite the variable course, it remains the border to this day.
The issue of the border has been complicated in recent years, as the discovery of oil around nearby Lake Albert, and the possibility of more oil to be discovered near the river’s path, has increased the stakes of the dispute, while recent wars in the region have also added to the river’s contentious status.
Increasing snowmelt on nearby mountains and overgrazing on land in the area have both caused the discharge of the river to increase, which has led to the river quickly eroding its banks and creating new courses. As it breaks through narrow points of meanders, the river creates oxbow lakes — lakes that were once bends in rivers — which eventually dry up. Meanwhile, in other formerly straight parts of the river, new bends form.
While both nations gain and lose land in places, Uganda has lost far more area as the river changes course, with many Ugandan farmers finding their lands have moved across the border.
It is unusual to be able to see a changing border in satellite pictures, but the unique situation of the Semliki River means the changes can be viewed via Google Timelapse.