Kenya issued a harshly worded statement and expelled the Somali envoy over a border row. Somalia, however, responded with exemplary diplomacy, leaving Kenya with an egg on its face.
Tensions are rising in East Africa over a maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia. The Government of Kenya released a strongly worded statement alleging Somalia had auctioned off oil and gas blocks in Kenyan maritime territory on the 7th of February, 2019. Calling the auction “outrageous and provocative” and those involved, enemies of the state, Kenya vowed to act. Kenya has since “instructed the Ambassador of Somalia to Kenya to depart to Somalia for consultations”.
The dispute over the area is not new; in 2009 the countries agreed that the United Nations commission in charge of mediating border disputes should determine the borderline without going to court. However, in 2014, Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Timothy Walker, a maritime border conflict researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa’s view is, “The position of the boundary is a gray area.”
Spectrum Geo website, however, seems to show that the blocks sparking the current tiff are not even in the disputed area. Only two blocks of fifteen are potentially close to the disputed triangular region. There is also no proof that the blocks were even auctioned and at best, Kenya’s protests are pre-emptive but unnecessary. The Somali government has confirmed that: “Somalia is not now offering, nor does it have any plans to offer, any blocks in the disputed maritime area until the Parties’ maritime boundary is decided by the ICJ.”
In its response to the Kenyan statement, the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said it regretted the decision by Kenya to instruct the Somali envoy to depart Kenya without prior consultations. The Somali government also committed to working hard in close cooperation with Kenya to address the issues affecting both nations and the region.
While a case can be made for both sides’ claims to the rich triangle, Kenya has gone about asserting its rights in an overly brutish manner. The government has disparaged its neighbor, throwing an unbecoming tantrum. It was not necessary for Kenya to conflate a border dispute with its benevolence to Somalia but it did. Kenya reminded Somalia that it has hosted hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and today hosts over four hundred thousand of them. It is unclear why this was relevant.
Kenya also said, “the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia has once again demonstrated that it has yet to attain and embrace the political maturity and diplomatic stance of a normal, well adjusted, and properly functioning modern government”. This was a blow below the belt and the irony is that Somalia has exhibited the level-headedness of a modern state while Kenya has thrown an embarrassing fit.
Tatenda Gwaambuka | Staff Writer | African Exponent