Kenya, Somalia keep eyes on court over ocean block dispute

Somalia, Kenya agree to normalize bilateral relations

By: East African

Somalia’s diplomatic relations with Kenya will in 2020 be tested depending on the outcome of the maritime boundary case which is due to be determined in June.

As Mogadishu and Nairobi appeared to iron out relations as 2019 was coming to an end, legal experts said the case at the International Court of Justice was a sticking point and could make or break this rapprochement in 2020.

Dr. Ben Sihanya, a constitutional law lecturer at the University of Nairobi in Kenya’s capital, said that a political solution would have been the best for both countries, as a decision by the court may not accommodate necessary compromises.

“The best solution would be a negotiated settlement because the court does not look at compromise and does not give “Solomonic” decisions that leave everyone happy,” he told The EastAfrican this week.

He said the problem is compounded by the fact that certain external actors like Gulf and Western countries have taken sides in the case ostensibly to protect their interests.

“The stakes are very high not only for Kenya and Somalia but those interests in the vast areas that have enormous riches in terms of gas, oil and minerals,” said Dr. Sihanya.

The case had largely been in a lull until President Farmaajo took power in 2017. Now, analysts say it could either improve or worsen bilateral ties as they both claim ownership of the area in the Indian Ocean said to be rich in gas and oil.

This is because, while the ICJ’s decision will be binding on both Kenya and Somalia, the Court does not have the mandate to enforce their verdicts, putting the responsibility on the litigants to co-operate.

The question remains whether Kenya will convince Somalia to settle the issue out of court, as it attempted before in 2019. The rise in Somalia nationalism and the 2020 elections could be factors against President Farmaajo’s acceptance to negotiate with Kenya, even if he wanted to.

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