Lamu fishers have vowed to continue working in the disputed areas of the Indian Ocean after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered its verdict on Kenya’s maritime border row with Somalia.
A panel of 14 judges in The Hague rejected Kenya’s argument that Somalia had previously agreed to Nairobi’s claimed border. Instead, the judges drew a new line that split the disputed area in two.
The disputed 100,000 square kilometre triangle in the ocean is thought to be rich in oil and gas.
Lamu county has at least 7,000 fishermen, of whom about 65 per cent depend directly on fishing in the disputed areas.
Somalia had demanded a review of the maritime boundary, in what could alter the ocean territories of both countries should the ICJ rule in favour of Somalia.
Lamu Beach Management network chairperson Mohamed Somo said fishermen had unsuccessfully urged the ICJ to allow them to be enjoined in the case because of the significant consequences they will bear after the ruling.
Mr Somo said that whereas the fishermen’s livelihoods and culture that date back thousands of years are threatened, it is unfortunate that they have been sidelined in the Kenya-Somalia border matter.
They worry that fishing grounds that have been conserved for centuries are now under threat, with fishermen likely to be exposed to outside hostilities.
“Denying us access to those disputed areas, which are our key fishing grounds, will subject our families to poverty,” Mr Somo said.
“Lamu is a fishing county, with 80 per cent of its catch coming from the Lamu archipelago. Out of the 80 per cent, 65 per cent comes from the disputed grounds. We won’t stop conducting fishing there.”
Lamu Marine Forum Organisation chairman Mohamed Athman questioned why the ICJ did not send a team to either Lamu or Somalia on a fact-finding mission.
He said Lamu fishermen consider the ocean a God-given resource and that there is no other higher power than God, not even the ICJ.
“We will strongly oppose any decision or action that may lead to any physical alteration of our maritime border as this will result in the loss of our productive fishing grounds and our huge oil and gas reserves in our marine waters,” Mr Athman said.
“The area under dispute is of high importance to the local communities and for the economic stability of Kenya.”
Save Lamu organisation spokesperson Is’haq Khatib said they supported Kenya’s decision to withdraw from the case, adding that Nairobi’s participation might have justified an unfair ICJ process.
Mr Khatib urged the government to continue strengthening the role of the Kenya Navy in Lamu waters, saying their presence has helped reduce insecurity incidents.
“This has allowed our fishermen to carry out their activities in peace. For our friends in Somalia, the Kenya-Somalia boundary is a continuing reminder of the colonial oppressors. We will continue to be one, both in blood and in culture. Let us be each other’s keeper,” he said.