There is no point beating around the bush. But that’s what Foreign Affairs CS Monicah Juma appeared to do when she addressed a gathering of defence policy experts in London last week. Dr Juma complained that commercial interests were behind the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia.
She failed to hit the nail on the head; to mention that oil-thirsty British and Norgwegian companies were widening the divide between the neighbouring African countries over the resource-rich zone in the Indian Ocean. The disputed Island is the subject of a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Notably, Somalia sued Kenya at the ICJ in 2014 following disagreement over the 100,000 square-kilometre maritime territory believed to contain huge deposits of oil.The decision shocked Nairobi because for 35 years, the two countries had respected the maritime boundary running eastward as contained in the 1979 Presidential Proclamation after a meeting. When Somalia went to ICJ, Kenya accused it of reneging on a 2009 pact seeking to resolve the dispute through negotiations via the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Kenya has, for long, pleaded with Somalia to drop the ICJ case in favour of an Afro-centric solution but in vain. The truth is, although justice is blind, Kenya is apprehensive it will notget it at the ICJ. And it has a good reason to be jittery. The man who heads the court is from Somalia. By itself, that is not reason enough to cast aspersions on the court, but Somalia’s actions leave a lot to be desired.
It’s noteworthy that Somalia had the audacity to auction oil blocks in the disputed territory while the court case was still ongoing. Somalia has been so bold it even auctioned another oil block in Lamu County.
According to recent reports, the country will publish its final Production Sharing Agreement in September this year, the same month the court case is expected to be heard.Auctioning the blocks while the case is ongoing can only mean that Somalia knows something that others don’t; that it is confident of winning the case. And for the British and Norwegian companies to enter into a deal with Somalia means that they are also confident the case will be ruled in favour of Somalia, not Kenya.
If that is not the case, where does Somalia and the two oil companies get the courage to enter into agreements over properties that are subject to a court case? Such a move definitely does not inspire confidence in Kenya.
But it is the possible role of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire in the maritime dispute that boggles the mind. Mr Khaire is a former executive director of Soma Oil, the UK firm that has bought oil blocks.
In addition, the Prime Minister is a dual citizen; he is a Norwegian and Somali national. Is it a coincidence that Norway’s oil firm DNO has also got a licence to do exploration for oil in the disputed territory?This could be the case. However, it is the potential of this scramble for oil by these companies in stoking conflict in the region that should worry us all.
Already, United Nations monitors have warned that commercial oil exploration by Western firms in disputed areas of Somalia could trigger further conflict in Somalia. Already, Kenya has vowed that it will be a cold day in hell before its cedes an inch of its territory.
That spells trouble, and the UK and Norway must not add fuel to the fire of simmering conflict. That’s why Kenya must speedily protest to the two countries in order that the oil companies can be kept away from the disputed territory.
The Western companies should hold their horses until the territorial dispute is resolved before moving in to prospect for oil and minerals. Moving while the dispute is still raging will be interpreted as legitimising Somalia’s claim to what Kenya believes is her territory. It will be seen as widening the rift which has already soured relations between the two neighbours. Britain and Norway, Kenya’s valued allies, should not let that happen.
Meanwhile, Kenya and Somalia should explore a mutually agreeable way of resolving the conflict to ensure the cordial relations they have enjoyed over the years do not go down the drain.
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