Anxiety grips Lamu as Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute escalates

As the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia continues to rage, Lamu residents are anxious about what the fallout portends for them.

The residents are fearful that fishermen could lose a large chunk of their traditional fishing grounds, with many unwilling to venture into the disputed ocean territory.

The disputed sea territory, estimated at nearly 100,000 square kilometres, is a triangular patch created by projecting the Kenya-Somali border eastwards, eating directly into Lamu’s rich fishing grounds of Kiunga.

Kenya wants the border to run along a parallel latitude south-east of Kiunga while Somalia is pressing for a diagonal line down the Kenyan Coast.

In a statement, the Kenyan Government notes that Somalia has since 1979 recognised and respected the maritime boundary between the two countries along a parallel of latitude.

Last month, Kenya closed the sliver of territory that separates the two nations and effectively shut down all human and vehicular traffic - a development that did not sit well with local leaders.

Deputy Governor Abdulhakim Aboud Bwana said the county would be hurt by the maritime dispute if Kenya loses its fishing grounds.

“Fishing is the mainstay of Lamu’s economy, and we cannot underscore the value that our traditional fishing grounds hold for the county’s blue economy prospects,” Mr Aboud said.

40,000 tonnes

The county government’s Fisheries Department has projected that Lamu’s blue economy has the potential to deliver 40,000 tonnes of fish annually, which is way above the 2,700 tonnes caught today.

“If Kenya and, in the smaller context, Lamu loses the maritime waters that it holds to Somalia, we could be losing as much as Sh7.5 billion worth of income annually,” Lamu’s Fisheries Chief Officer Simon Komu said on Saturday.

Fishermen are troubled after having lost the rich Kililana fishing grounds that are now being transformed into the Lamu Port.

“If we end up losing the Kiunga fishing grounds because of the dispute, many of us will be forced to leave fishing altogether. We might end up being subjected to the cruelties that our brothers in Migingo on Lake Victoria are enduring at the hands of Ugandan authorities,” said Lamu Fishermen Association chair Somo Bin Somo.