Let Kenya, Somalia seek what unites them more

Kenya Somalia maritime map [Courtesy]

The International Court of Justice has pronounced itself on the Indian Ocean boundary dispute between Kenya and Somalia. 

Kenya has vowed, just as it did months ago and reiterated yesterday, to reject the verdict, thereby setting the stage for confrontation between Nairobi and Mogadishu. But as expected Mogadishu has welcomed the verdict.

But all is not lost and it is still possible for both countries to have a win-win. Kenya and Somalia have co-existed as good neighbours without much conflict for decades.

In fact, Nairobi has been instrumental in efforts to restore stability and governance in Mogadishu, committing massive resources towards the cause.

Kenya is already marking a decade since it sent thousands of own troops to the troubled Horn of Africa nation in a peacekeeping initiative, now under the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) with the approval of the United Nations Security Council.

This is a clear indication that there is more that unites the two countries and territorial boundaries should not be the proverbial Rubicon that would cause a diplomatic tiff between the good neighbours.

In the realms of international relations, there are clearly defined methods of resolving conflicts and disputes, and litigation is only one of them.

Even though the determination of the ICJ is final, it does not stop the parties in conflict from exploring other means – such as negotiation, mediation or arbitration – to reach an amicable resolution.

For instance, Kenya has a mutual agreement with Tanzania on their maritime boundary, which closes as a straight line along Pemba Island. Why would such an agreement be impossible between Kenya and Somalia?

Tanzania had submitted to the United Nations Commission of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) its interest to discuss with Somalia about the maritime boundary despite it not having a claim to the contested area.

Kenya and Somalia should, therefore, take advantage of this and use Tanzania as a mediator.

What they need to recognise is that in negotiation, each party must be ready and willing to lose something for both of them to win.

They must look at the bigger picture and put the interests of their citizens before their territorial interests. For instance, they have to ask themselves; what would continued dispute mean for the ongoing peacekeeping mission in Somalia and fight against terrorism in the region.

It has happened before. Earlier disputes between the two countries about land that took place after independence were resolved through amicable agreements mediated by Congo and Zambia under the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

The deal helped restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. Even now, they should take the same route and be the dependable neighbours that they have always been.


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