ICJ to Rule on Age-long Kenya-Somalia Border Dispute



In August, the Somali and Kenyan governments agreed on a deal to reset ties and let sleeping dogs lie but an old marine border dispute has set both nations on an anticlimax that may well be settled at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), The Hague.

Both nations have been at daggers over a triangular area of the Indian Ocean which has deposits of oil and gas. The ICJ will deliver judgement on Tuesday as to the sovereignty of the water area. 

There have been disagreements over the directions to be taken by their maritime boundaries, with some geography now the bone of contention. Somalia, which took the matter to The Hague fights for a direction that heads to its land border to the Southeast but Kenya believes otherwise and says its border is in a straight line East to the coast. 

Nairobi also argues that it has maintained an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and sovereignty over the area since 1979. The EEZ according to marine studies is a water territory which extends up to 200 nautical miles (approximately 370kms) offshore where a state has the right to explore available resources. 

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More than a battle for space, what’s in the space is the real cream of the chaos. There’s an abundance of oil and gas in the marine area being clashed over. The disputed area, about 100,000 sq.km in size has riches that has interested foreign energy companies including Italian exploration firm, Eni. The Kenyan government granted Eni the license to explore the area, to the chagrin of the Somali government who currently feels shortchanged.

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In 2009, the Kenyan and Somali governments agreed to settle their dispute through bilateral means. Five years after, they were at the table again, and failed to reach a truce. A few a months after the initial failure, the Kenyan delegation boycotted a meeting between both nations without logical reasons. 

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After several diplomatic failures, Somalia took the matter to The Hague but Kenya raised a red flag and said the ICJ wasn’t permitted to rule until negotiation between both countries was completed. 

In 2017, the ICJ sat to begin its jurisdiction processes with hearings scheduled for 2019. After three postponements, it was moved to March 2021 and Kenya refused participation, insisting on the legality of the ICJ to conduct arbitration without the end of negotiations. 

After Somalia auctioned oil and gas blocks to foreign companies in 2019, the Kenyan government recalled its ambassador in the country describing it as an “illegal grab”. 

Both nations have however been each other’s helping hand over terrorist group, Al Shabaab. The leaders of Kenya and Somalia, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed and Uhuru Kenyatta met in November 2019 and agreed to sheathe their swords. 

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Kenya, however pitched tents with the enemy, according to Somalia when it hosted leaders from Somaliland in 2020. The neighbours have held talks in August 2021 with their eyes set on settling their agelong dispute but the ICJ’s ruling is set to make a significant difference in relations between both countries.

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