Kenya, Somalia diplomatic spat not good for regional security

A border dispute between Kenya and Somalia has finally come to a head. Dating back to 2014 when both countries laid claim to an oil and gas island in the Indian Ocean along their border, Somalia lodged a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014.

While Kenya insists the maritime border with Somalia should run parallel to the line of latitude, effectively placing the disputed island in its territory, Somalia insists the border should run in line with its southern border, thus laying claim to the islands. No doubt, there must exist an internationally recognised method of determining how maritime borders run, but Somalia appears to have become impatient waiting for arbitration.

This impatience is manifest in Somalia’s unilateral decision to auction oil blocks on the disputed Island in London last week. This action was taken, notwithstanding that Kenya had suspended oil exploratory activities on the Island in 2014 following Somalia’s complaint to the International Court of Justice. With the turn of events, Kenya read aggression into Somalia’s action and reacted by severing diplomatic ties, recalling its Ambassador from Mogadishu, Somalia and asking Somalia’s Ambassador in Nairobi to return home. That, however, is undesirous. A diplomatic spat between Kenya and Somalia, indeed, all its neighbours, is the least desirable thing anybody would wish for at the moment.

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The Somalia authorities did not just stab a worthy, helpful neighbour in the back, by putting a wedge between Somalia and Kenya; its staunchest ally in the war against terrorism, Somalia’s deed risks clawing back all the gains, painstakingly made, to bring lasting peace to the troubled Horn of Africa region that has borne the brunt of Al Shabaab attacks.

Arguably, the peace Somalia enjoys today is courtesy of the Kenya Defence Forces’ (KDF) presence on Somalia territory. In 2011 when Al Shabaab abducted tourists on the Kenya- Somalia border, President Mwai Kibaki (now retired) ordered pursuit into Somalia that to date, has had the positive impact of dislodging Al Shabaab from its strongholds and weakened its malevolence. Separately, a number of Kenyan solders lost their lives in two camps in Somalia; El Adde (2016) and Kulbiyow (2017) while defending Somalia.

No other country bears the brunt of insecurity in Somalia than Kenya.  The Somalia based Al Shabaab militia attacked Westage Mall in Nairobi on September 21, 2013, killing 67 people. On April 2, 2015, Al Shabaab attacked Garissa University, killing 148 people. In 2019, an attack on dusitD2 in Nairobi left 15 people dead. Such sacrifices suffice to compel Somalia to act with utmost diplomatic caution in the way it handles disputes with Kenya and other neighbours.

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Somalia cannot afford to challenge or antagonise neighbours who have stood by it in its quest for peace. Certainly not Kenya whose soldiers and people have shed blood defending the rights of innocent Somalis caught in the cross fires of clan feuds in whose grip Somalia has been since the ouster of Said Bare in 1990. The result of Barre’s ouster was the creation of the world’s largest refugee camps in Kenya; Dadaab and Kakuma that for decades, have been home to Somalia refugees. In maintaining these camps, even with international assistance, Kenya’s input has been great; sometimes compromising its own security for Somalia.

President Kenyatta has gone out of his way to ensure a semblance of order returns to Somalia by not just organising, but also leading regional peace initiatives. He has stood firm against calls to recall KDF from Somalia where the cost of maintenance is gargantuan. This stems from the realisation that a stable Somalia is good for every country in the horn of African region. Indeed, an unstable Somalia, as events over time have demonstrated, is dangerous to our own security. In 2014 through to 2016, Kenya suffered travel advisories that nearly brought its tourism industry to its knees because of terrorist attacks.

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While there is need for an amicable resolution to the dispute, it should not be lost on Somalia authorities that there is more to be gained by standing together than by creating weak links that our common enemies could exploit to weaken us and cause despondency.

KenyaSomaliaKenya Somalia borderBorder row