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bir tawil

This man crowned himself king of an unclaimed part of Africa - and he's pretty serious about it

Jeremiah Heaton wants to turn the area into an agricultural hub for the region.

heaton Jeremiah Heaton / Facebook Jeremiah Heaton / Facebook / Facebook

JEREMIAH HEATON RECENTLY travelled to a remote, mountainous patch of desert between Egypt and Sudan to claim one of the last ungoverned pieces of land in the world.

Heaton took the land to make good on his promise to make his daughter a princess.

He searched for various regions of disputed land across the world, and finally came across a little piece of Africa that was unclaimed.

Heaton trekked to the area, stuck a flag pole in the ground, and is now setting about making the area his.

Now, as the media descends on Heaton, his ambitions have moved quickly beyond giving his daughter royalty status.

He says he plans on turning his land into a living, working kingdom called North Sudan.

“My family and I sat down once we realized that legally we had a valid claim and have established a government there,” Heaton told Business Insider in a recent interview.

I asked them, ‘How can we utilize this piece of ground for the betterment of the world?’

A self-described “inventor,” “problem-solver,” and “average guy,” Heaton says the family settled on transforming the area into an agricultural center after his 7-year-old daughter, Emily, expressed a desire to “feed people in Africa.”

The claimed piece of land is known as Bir Tawil, an 800-square-mile mountainous region that has remained ungoverned and unclaimed because of a border dispute between Egypt and Sudan.

Both Egypt and Sudan claim ownership of the nearby Hala’ib Triangle under different historical borders. Neither historical border includes Bir Tawil, leaving it resolutely in a political no-man’s-land.

Heaton says the area has been left alone because it holds no strategic or resource value or any permanent residents.

Heaton — who ran as an Independent in the Congressional race for Virginia’s 9th district in 2010 — says he wants to take “the world’s least desirable piece of land” and turn it into a “shining example” of what the world’s best scientists and thinkers can accomplish.

He could make it happen, as long as it doesn’t get quashed by Egypt, Sudan, and the U.N.

512px-egypt_sudan_claims.svg (1) Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

While Heaton’s claim, on a purely territorial basis, is surprisingly legal, international law requires his land to meet a few more requirements to get official recognition.

According to Slate’s Joshua Keating:

To be considered a state under the common definition used by international law, North Sudan would need ‘a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.’ At the moment, it maybe has b.’

And that means nothing if he doesn’t have the recognition of the surrounding countries.

Heaton has begun to pursue official recognition by contacting the state departments of both Egypt and Sudan. Neither has responded to his requests, he acknowledges, though he chalks that up to their observance of Ramadan, which is ongoing until July 28. Heaton indicated that he will ramp up that effort again after Ramadan ends.

Neither the Egyptian nor Sudan embassies have responded to requests from Business Insider for comment at this time.

Farming the Desert This June 20, 2013, photo shows Hydro Greens hydroponics farm at the base of a range of mountains bordering Death Valley National Park Pahrump, Nev. The basil and other greens grow at the farm are cropping up in a hostile, sagebrush-spangled desert where no more than 5 inches of rain fall each year. AP Photo / Julie Jacobson AP Photo / Julie Jacobson / Julie Jacobson

In the meantime, Heaton says he and his family are developing a comprehensive plan for Bir Tawil, which he says will focus on turning the area into an agricultural hub for the region.

Heaton envisions producing large amounts of food for parts of Africa that have long suffered malnutrition and stressors on agricultural production.

He’s not fazed by the fact that the land is a barren desert. The U.S., Australia, and Israel have all had success with desert farming through irrigation, Heaton points out.

The idea to “terraform” — the process of modifying an environment to become like more habitable parts of Earth — is not completely ludicrous.

In 2009, Leonard Ornstein at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Igor Aleinov and David Rind at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies laid out a plan in the Journal of Climatic Change for terraforming the Sahara Desert. The scheme involved pumping massive amounts of desalinated seawater to the desert through a huge irrigation network while planting fields of fast-growing trees.

Bir Tawil is only 800 square miles and relatively close to the Red Sea, but any pipeline would have to cross Egyptian or Sudanese territory to get there.

screen shot 2014-07-15 at 3.01.48 pm Google Maps Google Maps

Heaton envisions bringing in scientists like Ornstein, Aleinov, and Rind to implement cutting-edge, environmentally friendly technologies like terraforming, renewable energies, and gray-water capture systems to cut down on environmental effects and reverse climate-change trends.

Heaton sees North Sudan as a place to support scientists who have been shut out by the scientific grant system in America, which he says is fundamentally flawed because it encourages researchers to predict outcomes before completing their research.

Heaton wants to empower scientists and researchers who may have “the next great idea” but have yet to successfully obtain grants. He believes that by doing so, he could encourage scientific development and put North Sudan on the technological map. Heaton says he’s already received inquiries from five reputable scientists interested in what he wants to do.

“Once we make our plans clear for how the money will be spent, we will send the call out on Kickstarter for funding,” Heaton said.

It would be easy and tempting to set something up now for people to donate to. I want people to donate with a clarity and understanding of what their money will be spent on.

The kind of money that Heaton is talking about would have to be likely the biggest Kickstarter campaign of all time. And Heaton, as King, says he will be responsible for doling out the money to his kingdom. To be sure, nobody can predict whether the world’s internet users will be interested in funding Heaton’s lone vision of an 800-square-mile terraformed desert kingdom.

Still, Heaton said, “I think the kindness, generosity, and intellectual curiosity [of our plan] is something that people will invest in.”

heaton2 The flag was designed by Heaton and his three children. Jeremiah Heaton / Facebook Jeremiah Heaton / Facebook / Facebook

Heaton plans on splitting his time between Virginia and Bir Tawil in the near future, overseeing the transformation of the region (and even manning a backhoe or two). His children will remain in the U.S. so that they can finish school. Heaton has not yet worked out how North Sudan’s education system will work.

Even though they won’t live in the area, Heaton’s children will be very involved in the development of North Sudan, Heaton says. His two sons are both very invested in the project, and Emily has expressed excitement at the idea, even if her 7-year-old mind doesn’t grasp all the nuances.

“This is a family project. My kids ask me every day what are we doing, where are we at with the project. It’s like I’m working for them sometimes,” Heaton said.

Whether Heaton’s far-fetched plan ever goes anywhere is up for debate. After talking at length with Heaton, one thing is clear: He’s certain that it will.

- Harrison Jacobs

Read: These Irish men drove Death Road, scaled a volcano… and made it home in one piece >

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