Strong navies crucial to Africa's coastal defences

Kenya Coast Guard Vessel Doria. [Maarufu Mohamed,Standard]

Maritime operations are taking centre stage. Marine wealth is the focus of new scrambles without much African participation. Subsequently, those with ability reap benefits at the expense of those who ignore the sea.

Policy makers whose security mind-frame is tuned to land have problems capturing and relating to new global sea dynamics. The dynamics often create new power realities and the challenge is for each country to avoid becoming another country’s created reality.

Countries with strong naval capabilities lead in creating sea realities and victimising those without. They engage in global power play in grabbing sea wealth.

Sea-fronted countries without maritime preparations tend to invite all types of aggression, mainly because they lack sea defences. Imperial maritime powers colonise and turn other places into appendages. They also engage in hemming to deny others access to sea wealth.

The United States, with the biggest navy and merchant marine, is visible everywhere, carrying goods or patrolling the seas. It also leads in thinking about 'sea-basing'; the creation of new and more reliable bases in international waters.

Other maritime powers with ability to manufacture 'islands' in the high seas are likely to give the Americans stiff competition. Some of the waters in which sea-basing competition is likely to take place are near Africa’s virtually undefended long coast line. 

Colonial states

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Without sea defences, African countries end up as appendages and proxies of assorted imperial sea powers. This lack of defences explains two Euro ventures on the African people. First, it explains the ease with which Euro powers mounted the Atlantic Slave Trade that laid foundations for industrialisation and capitalism.

Second, it enabled enslavement in the form of colonisation and creation of colonial states that later evolved into post-colonial independent but dependent states.

Neighbouring Somalia and Kenya were among those colonial states that became independent but 'dependent' postcolonial states.

With their colonially created multiple identities, Somalia and Kenya have had bad independent relations.

This is mainly because of Somalia’s desire to rearrange existing political geography through its two pronged irredentist inclinations, on land and at sea. Although Kenya was able to handle land aggression through the “Shifta” quasi war because it had an army, it has had problems dealing with the sea aggression.

This is because, despite having a respectable size sea coast, it does not have a naval force that is big enough to deter concerted aggression and make its presence felt. What is more, Somalia is not alone in the new form of irredentism against Kenya.

It seemingly has the support and encouragement of extra-continental forces. It actually is a proxy to Euro forces.

The reason the Euros pushed Somalia to encroach on Kenyan waters and sea wealth was partly because Kenya has no recognisable maritime force. With the real threat coming from the sea, the perceived maritime weakness was invitation to sea irredentism.

This reality

Using Somalia as proxy, the Euros took Kenya to a politically Euro-dominated International Court of Justice, ICJ, with Somali or Somali friendly judges.

Euro citizens control the Somali government as president, prime minister, and ministers of key ministries. With a Somali national as presiding judge and Somali government cabinet being Euro citizens, the deck was stuck against Kenya right from the beginning.

This reality makes the validity of the ICJ opinions questionable and therefore ignorable. It becomes a tool for rearranging Kenya’s geography.

The ICJ credibility is on the decline partly because judges are not necessarily impartial and tend to protect the interests of their home countries.

Debates as to whether ICJ opinions are ignorable, therefore, have been gaining momentum especially where the national security of a state is involved.

This is because international law is mostly international politics and is an instrument of serving the interests of powerful states.

The value of international law, therefore, is good only as far as it serves the core interests of a state or it, at least, does not seriously threaten those interests.

Of the roughly 190 United Nations member states, for instance, only 64 have some sort of trust in ICJ in part because ICJ independence is dependent on global power play and funding. Four of the five members of the UN Security Council do not accept ICJ compulsory jurisdiction.

Kenya’s commitment to two things would help to avoid becoming other countries’ created realities. First, adjust sense of national priorities to create maritime industry and undertake serious naval build up. Second, mount serious questioning of Euro using the Somali proxy to rearrange Kenya’s sea geography.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU 

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Kenya Coast Guard Vessel DoriaICJ