Maritime boundary row: Why the contested area is important for Kenya

Security personnel patrolling the Kenya-Somalia border in Mandera's Point One area. [Courtesy]

The area being claimed by Somalia is a rich ground for oil exploration and there are fears that if it's awarded to her neighbour, Kenya will be locked out of the ocean by Somalia and Tanzania.

The maritime boundary, as claimed by Somalia, will join that of Tanzania hence eliminating Kenya’s access to the ocean at the coast.

Kenya’s maritime area is approximately 255,000km, which was determined through the parallel latitudes in 1979.

Meanwhile, Kenya has a mutual agreement with Tanzania on maritime which closes as a straight line along Pemba Island. If Somalia’s claim is allowed by the court, its boundary closes through the Kenyan coast and joins that of Tanzania, locking out Kenya in a triangle.

Somalia has recognised Kenya’s claim to the EEZ for 35 years.

However, in 2014, the Horn of Africa filed a case before the International Court of Justice.

This period coincided with Tanzania filing before the UN its willingness to negotiate with the Somalia about maritime boundaries, although in the real sense, the parallel of latitudes divides the East African Countries maritime in such a way that Somalia and Tanzania boundaries cannot meet.

Tanzania submitted to the United Nations Commission of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) its interest to discuss with Somalia about the Maritime boundary despite it not having a claim to the contested area.

“Government of the United Republic of Tanzania is ready to engage into consultations on the overlapping area referred to in the Executive Summary of Somalia. Furthermore, communication to that effect has already been forwarded to the Permanent Mission of Somali Republic to the United Nations, with a view to commencing negotiations regarding the said matter,” Tanzania’s document seen by The Standard read in part.

Somalia first wrote to the CLCS about its negotiations with Tanzania on July 21, 2014.

“Somalia is ready to enter into consultations with Tanzania with a view to reaching an agreement or understanding which will allow the commission to consider on submissions by each of the two coastal states in the areas under dispute without prejudice to the final delimitation of the continental shelf to be concluded subsequently in the areas under dispute by the two Coastal states,” Somalia wrote.

Four months later, hot on heels to the claim in the International Court of Justice, Tanzania wrote to the CLCS on October 17, 2014.

“The permanent mission of the United Republic of Tanzania avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the commission on the limits of the continental shelf the assurance of its highest consideration,” Tanzania wrote.