18-03-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
Kenya and Somalia have been at loggerheads over the issue of maritime boundaries in the Indian Ocean for years.
After years of international interpellations, appeals and (few) direct confrontations, the focus is now on the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which could for the first time and definitively accept Somalia's arguments to take back a triangle of sea that currently belongs to Kenya, after post-colonial subdivisions, and that is very important for fishing activities and for oil and natural gas deposits.
The dispute between Kenya and Somalia dates back to independence.
The Horn of Africa had claimed parts of Kenya's former northern border district (north-eastern province). It was the only nation, along with Morocco, not to recognise the subdivisions established by the United Nations and the African Union.
Regions to which Somalia claims membership include northern Kenya, Ogaden in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somaliland.
Post-independence disputes over land territory were resolved through friendly agreements brokered by Congo and Zambia under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
It was after these mediations that Somalia delineated its borders and Kenya established diplomatic relations with it. The bone of contention between the two countries came to a head again after the two governments failed to sign a memorandum of understanding in previous years.
According to Kenya, Somalia never intended to negotiate, considering its decisions as those to be taken without ifs and buts.
When Nairobi tried to get the African Union to mediate, Mogadishu had already turned to the International Court of Justice, also relying on the Somali origins of the current president Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf. According to the Somalis, however, attempts at talks were nipped in the bud by Kenya's unwillingness to compromise.
Since 2009, there have also been attempts by Somalis to legitimise operations in the disputed triangle. According to documents, the Somalis have already put up for sale four blocks for oil extraction in Britain, according to an agreement already in place before the pandemic and now provisionally blocked.
The Lamu archipelago is now anxious and concerned about how its country's foreign policy will be handled in this regard: if the waters off the Kenyan coast were to become the property of Somalia, eighty per cent of fishing, which is the main income of the islands' population north of the Kenyan coast and about 70 km from the Somali border, would be lost.
Documents and maps filed by Kenya at the International Court of Justice as new evidence show that the equidistant line Somalia wants enters Kenya's territory, differing from the current one which is perpendicular to the meridian and not the land borders.
Other borders of African states, for example that between Kenya and Tanzania and Tanzania itself with Mozambique, suggest the same and such a decision could set a dangerous precedent for other states.
Kenya therefore argues that the Court's decision would be a drastic one and would deny Lamu residents their livelihoods, given that fishing is the basic source of livelihood for at least 75% of the residents.
"If the disputed waters were allocated to Somalia, limited access to historic fishing grounds and increased insecurity would be the final nail in the coffin for commercial fishing, with many large vessels likely to limit their range, fearing kidnapping for ransom as is already the case across the border," the document reads.
Kenya has decided to close all land borders with Tanzania and Somalia.
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