Nairobi, Kenya – The United Nations’ top court largely sided with Kenya in a dispute with Somalia over how to demarcate a disputed region in the Indian Ocean known to be rich in oil and gas, a major decision that This could escalate tensions in the region and eventually reshape the maritime borders of the two countries.
The decision by the International Court of Justice in The Hague limited a year-long, oft-delayed case that has strained relations between neighboring countries in the strategically important Horn of Africa. While the court handed over most of the disputed territory to Somalia, it moved it slightly north of the border in line with Kenya’s demand.
Even before the court’s ruling, Kenya withdrew from the case, saying it would not recognize any of the decisions. Court decisions are binding but unenforceable, and Many other countries have chosen to ignore them..
but this disputeTerrorism, experts say, threatens to cast another note of uncertainty in a region already hit by internal conflict and widespread instability.
Here’s a look at why the Somalia-Kenya dispute matters, and what its political, security and economic consequences could be for the wider region.
Why is this part of the sea so important to Somalia and Kenya?
In two words: natural resources. The disputed offshore area, which covers some 62,000 square miles, is believed to contain vast reserves of oil and gas, which could give a major boost to the economy of any country that controls it.
The area is also rich in fish, and changes in marine boundaries could mean loss of livelihoods for some fishing communities, particularly those in Lamu County on the north coast, in the Horn of Africa group of the International Crisis Group. Researcher Meron Elias said. . At least two fishing landing sites exist within the disputed area and there are Kenyan fishermen. repeatedly protested and called upon the regional bodies to intervene.
Lamu County is also a popular tourist destination and is home of a US military base, as well as a new, Chinese-built deepwater port aimed at linking East Africa’s landlocked economies, such as Ethiopia and South Sudan, with global trade routes.
The disagreement over the relatively narrow triangle in the Indian Ocean reflects the restlessness that has defined relations between the two countries since independence. For Kenyans, Somali claims are part of They call their neighbor’s “resurrectionist expansionist agenda”., “a reference to a separatist struggle Since the 1960s in Kenya by ethnic Somalis who populate the northeastern districts along the border with Somalia.
The dispute has acted as political fodder for the leaders of both the countries.
For Somalia, who has entered a hot election period, may give a political boost to the decision of the International Court of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is seeking a second term in office and is fueling nationalist sentiment over the maritime dispute.
Kenya, which has deployed troops to Somalia as part of the African Union Peacekeeping Force, often complains that its contribution to stabilizing its neighbour – by failing Al Shababi’s threat, an offshoot of al Qaeda, and hosting Somali refugees—not appreciated.
Why can’t the two countries agree on who controls the region?
The main source of contention for both Kenya and Somalia has been how the maritime boundary should be extended from the land border.
Somalia wanted its maritime territory to be delimited by a line that runs southeast of its land border, and the court mostly approved this. Kenya wanted that line to run east in a straight line parallel to the equator.
For years, both countries tried to resolve this issue through diplomatic talks. When that failed, Somalia, in August 2014, case registered With the court of the United Nations to determine the maritime boundary.
In 2017, court rejected Kenya argues that it lacks jurisdiction, but it took another four years to start hearing the case.
In March, just before the first public hearing began, Kenya withdrawn from proceedings, adding that its legal team was not given enough time to prepare. It also objected to the presence in the legal panel of Judge Abdulkawi Yusuf, a Somali citizen who served as the court’s chairman until February.
Is the court’s decision final and enforceable?
Article 94 of the United Nations Charter It states that member states must comply with court decisions, and that either party should seek recourse from the Security Council if the other party fails to meet its obligations.
In this case, the court rejected Kenya’s argument that it had an existing border agreement with Somalia and that adjusting the maritime boundary would be a serious security concern or would endanger the livelihoods of fishing communities. But the court also rejected Somalia’s claim that Kenya was violating international law and turned down its request for compensation.
While the court’s decisions are final and without appeal, they have no way of enforcing them. Last week, Kenya said it would not be bound by the decision of other countries following the path, among them the United States and China, which have ignored court rulings.
Timothy Walker, leader of the maritime project at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said although the situation may remain tense, it is unlikely to escalate into a full-blown conflict.
With a weak federal government and a nascent maritime authority, “Somalia is not yet a country that can enforce its laws at sea or international laws as mandated,” Mr Walker said.
Where do the two countries go from here?
The court’s decision added to a long list of challenges already testing relations between Kenya and Somalia.
For its part, Kenya has deported Somali legislators and, at one point, suspended direct flights from Somalia to Nairobi.
Somalia also abolished visas on arrival for Kenyan citizens and banned the import of Kenyan letters, a mildly provocative leaflet that brings millions of dollars to Kenya’s economy.
Abdimlik Abdullahi, an independent researcher from Mogadishu, said that to defuse future tensions, experts say both countries could turn to the African Union or other regional bodies to move forward.
“This can be done,” he said, “through the establishment of technical committees that can address other outstanding issues, leaders maintain channels of contact and communication, and avoid any unilateral military activities in those waters.” Huh.”