State kicks out Somalia envoy as row over oil blocks simmers

Kenya’s Ambassador to Somalia Lt Gen (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo in his office in Mogadishu. [File, Standard]

A row over a maritime territorial area in the Indian Ocean between Kenya and Somalia has escalated after Nairobi decided to cut diplomatic relations with Mogadishu over a claim that the latter had auctioned oil blocks located in a disputed border area.

Last evening, Nairobi announced that it was recalling its ambassador in Mogadishu, Lt Gen (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo, stating that Somalia’s decision to auction an oil block in London last week amounted to aggression against Kenyans and their resources.

Consequently, Nairobi sent away the Somali Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Nur and escalated an ongoing case at The Hague into a political battle between Nairobi and Mogadishu.

“This outrageous and provocative auction deserves and will be met by a unanimous and resounding rejection by all Kenyans, as well as people of goodwill who believe in the maintenance of international law and order, and the peaceful and legal resolution of disputes,” Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said in a tough statement.

“By carelessly ignoring the internationally-acceptable norms of boundary dispute resolution and or political and diplomatic disagreements, the government of Somalia has demonstrated that it has yet to attain and embrace political maturity and diplomatic stance of a normal, well-adjusted and properly functioning modern state,” the Principal Secretary said.

At the centre of the dispute is a narrow triangle on the Indian Ocean measuring 62,000 square miles. It is not yet clear to which country it belongs, but it is believed to hold large deposits of oil and gas. 

Exploratory activities

Kenya insists the boundary runs parallel to the line of latitude and had already sold mining licenses to exploration companies in the area before the dispute blew up.

At stake in the case are the blocks awarded to foreign companies on concession basis.

Kenya has since claimed that exploratory activities in the area had been suspended as a sign of good faith, but Somalia insists that is not enough.

Somalia on the other hand insists the border should run in line with its southern border. 

The matter ended up at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April 2014 after discussions failed.

Kenya lost preliminary objections to the case in 2017 forcing it to file a substantive response to the main case.

Maritime experts have in the past warned that Kenya could lose the main case if past rulings of the court were anything to go by. Kenya nevertheless proceeded to challenge the matter with former Attorney General Githu Muigai appearing before The Hague-based court to argue the case for Kenya.

At stake if Kenya were to lose the case is the forfeiture of three of its 20 oil blocks in the Indian Ocean to Somalia. The blocks in dispute are blocks L-21, L-23 and L-24 are located.

The point of disagreement between Kenya and Somalia is the nature of the line of the maritime boundary. While Somali insists on a median line from Kenya/Somali land boundary terminus, Kenya insists on a straight line.

Somali’s equidistant line carves out a triangle of the maritime area currently occupied by Kenya and where the three blocks are located.

Court documents filed show that the three blocks of oil on the triangle were awarded to Italian company Eni S.p.A in 2012 by the Kenyan government.

In its case, Somalia wants the court to determine the boundary dividing all the maritime area between Kenya and Somalia in the Indian Ocean, including the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.

In its preliminary objections filed on October 7, 2015, Kenya held its ground that it has exercised uncontested jurisdiction over the disputed maritime areas since it first proclaimed its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 1979.

It had contested the jurisdiction of the ICJ to hear the matter and to the admissibility of the suit on the basis of an April 7, 2009 agreement between it and Somalia to the effect that the dispute would be solved through negotiation.

Kenya also claimed the 2009 agreement had also proposed that the final settlement would only be after the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has established the outer limits of that maritime boundary. Kenya lost those preliminary objections.