As next-door neighbours, Kenya and Somalia need each other. After all, the two countries not only share a nearly 900-kilometre land border but also a maritime one in the Indian Ocean. It’s in their mutual interest to promote peace and harmony and deepen cooperation. This is precisely why, for more than a decade, Kenya has committed massive resources to helping to stabilise Somalia.
To date, Kenya has thousands of troops serving under the African Union peacekeeping force Unisom to buttress the government in Mogadishu. The country has paid a heavy price in personnel and resources to help Somalia to restore governance and reclaim its rightful place in the international community.
The relations have not always been rosy, as often happens between neighbours anywhere, but through regular contacts and talks by the leaders any challenges that have arisen, have been resolved.
Not long ago, the two countries broke off their diplomatic relations for several months over some disagreements. Thanks to the intervention of mediators, however, the matter was amicably resolved.
Sadly, a maritime border dispute is again threatening to rock the relations. At the centre of this feud is the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in which Somalia filed a case in 2014 against Kenya over the contested parts of the Indian Ocean that are believed to be rich in oil and gas. Kenya has been rather suspicious of the conduct of the ICJ, which it accuses of being biased against it.
The height of irony, therefore, is the fact that the United Nations’ highest court for resolving disputes between states appears to be fuelling it. At the core of this border row is over more than 100,000 square kilometres of sea floor that is claimed by both countries. Recently, Kenya not only withdrew its participation from the case, but also its recognition of the court’s compulsory jurisdiction.
It’s quite disappointed that instead of fairly addressing Kenya’s concerns, the court’s response has been that withdrawal does not work retroactively and will have no influence on the Somalia case. Such a response can only further estrange a key party in the dispute, which also has concerns that should not just be ignored.
The border row has been raging since 2012 when Somalia first accused Kenya of illegally awarding exploration rights in the waters to multinationals. This matter should have been deliberated and fairly resolved within the nearly 10 years if it had been approached with seriousness it really deserves and a determination to see justice done to both parties in the dispute.
Complicated the matter
What must have complicated the matter is the fact that the rulings by the ICJ, which is also known as the World Court, are final. This is most likely going to drive the parties in the dispute further apart.
One will be feeling that it finally has the right to territory being claimed, while the other will feel that it was not given a fair hearing. However, it could just amount to much ado about nothing, as the ICJ has no direct means of enforcement of its rulings. Indeed, a bad precedent has been set in past where some states have ignored its decisions, undermining the stature of a court that would do much better.
Also, the issue of colonial borders and some decrees has been deliberated on at length. The feeling has been that it might be prudent in many of the cases to let the old border stand, if changing them is going to open wounds of conflicts between countries and some communities. In this case, the ICJ has rejected Kenya’s claim that delimitation would endanger the livelihoods of fishing communities.
Old arrangements that continue to work so well include the Nile treaties that guarantee the right to the river’s water downstream. They expressly prohibit the countries where the source of the Nile is from damming and interfering with it.
Kenya and Somali leaders have in the recent past shown a commitment to resolving disputes between. It’s in the spirit of this that bilateral relations have been strengthened with recent visits by high-ranking ministers and other leaders.
There is no reason why the leaders cannot also get together and reach a decision that will be of benefit to both and enhance their relations.