Who is behind Mogadishu in Kenya-Somalia maritime border dispute?

Mr Smith Hempstone bidding farewell to Kenyans at the JKIA in 1993 [File]

Last week’s decision by the International Court of Justice to hand over a section of Kenya’s territorial waters to Somalia raises four disturbing questions: Why did the court ignore rules of natural justice when it allowed a judge who has previously taken a biased position on the matter be on the bench that heard the case?

Why was the ICJ not keen on a negotiated settlement, which is the first option in settling such conflicts? Why did the ICJ go ahead to rule on the matter when a party in the dispute (Kenya) had withdrawn from the case? And, finally, who footed Somalia’s bills during the litigation because the federal government in Mogadishu has challenges even paying electricity bills for the president’s office?

It isn’t rocket science to conclude Somalia was not acting alone. There was a hidden hand working the spanners. There are hints to help connect the dots.

While the matter of the disputed waters was still in the courts in February 2019, Somalia hosted an oil and gas conference in London where it disclosed plans to auction four oil blocks within the contested maritime zone. It set the auction dates as December 4-5 of the same year and announced that undisclosed international oil companies had expressed interest to bid. The auction didn’t take place following loud protests from Kenya.

Now, who had paid for the conference in London? Which multi-national drilling companies had expressed interest to bid? And why submit bids to drill in a disputed territory unless the oil cartels knew how the court would decide on the matter?

For a hint as to where the undisclosed bidders came from, one needs to know who was in power in Mogadishu when the oil conference was held in London. The five men calling the shots in Mogadishu at the time have dual citizenship, which gives a clue where the oil cartels with whom they wanted to cut deals come from.

President Mohamed Farmaajo had just come to power. He holds dual citizenship of Somalia and the US where he lived for many years. The country’s prime minister at the time and key-note speaker at the London conference was Hassan Ali Khaire, who holds Norwegian citizenship.

The national security advisor to the president at the time was Abdisaid Ali, a citizen of Denmark. The Foreign Affairs minister, the convener of the London conference, was Ahmed Isse Awad, a Canadian citizen, while the head of intelligence was Abdullahi Mohamed Ali, a citizen of Qatar.

While Kenya has cordial diplomatic relationship with the countries where the ‘Pentagon’ in power in Mogadishu at the time hold dual citizenship, the same cannot be said about the oil cartels in those countries, who may not wish Kenya well.

Oil cartels–indeed all cartels in the mineral industry–don’t like dealing with stable countries like Kenya. They thrive in a state of chaos, which explains the turmoil in Niger Delta and previously in mineral-rich Angola and the Congo Basin. In the Horn of Africa they would be happy to do business with Somalia–any time.

Is it a coincidence that oil buccaneers only ‘discovered’ Somali after disintegration of the country and subsequent never-ending chaos following the fall of Siad Barre regime’s in 1991?

Thankless neighbour

Smith Hempstone, who was the US ambassador to Kenya when Somalia collapsed, wrote about what he thought of our eastern neighbour and hinted how cartels in Washington pull strings whenever they smell oil.

Asked by the State department to advise whether or not the US should send troops to help stabilise Somalia after Barre’s fall, the ambassador strongly advised against it. He wrote in a cable to Washington:

“There is little reason to believe that the bitter and long-standing clan rivalries that have turned Somalia into a particularly murderous Lebanon will yield to outside intervention. The sad fact is that no outside intervention can prevent a people intent on destroying themselves from succeeding in such an atavistic deed if they so insist.”

He went on: “Somalis, as the Italians and British discovered to their discomfiture, are natural–born guerrillas. They will mine the roads. They will lay ambushes. They will launch hit-and-run attacks. They will not be able to stop the convoys from getting through, but they will inflict and take casualties.”

Describing Somalia as “ungrateful and a tar-baby”, the US ambassador wrote: “Things will quiet down for a day or two, and then a Somali kid will roll a grenade into a café frequented by American troops. There will be an abduction or two. A sniper occasionally will knock off one of our sentries. If you liked Beirut, you will love Mogadishu.”

Unknown to Hempstone, a decision had already been made in Washington that US troops be deployed in Somalia, thanks to lobbying by influential cartels with an eye on Somali oil. In a departure from protocol, then US Defence Secretary Dick Cheney trashed Hempstone’s advice and said the envoy was ignorant on matters to do with Somalia.


But the diplomat was proved right when American marines were humiliated in Somalia and had be recalled in haste following an outcry at home when shocking of American soldiers dragged naked in the streets of Mogadishu hit the screens.

In regard to secret maneuvering by the oil cartels, there is an interesting anecdote on Cheney who rose to be vice president under George W Bush, written by famous American car executive, Lee Iacocca, in the book Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

He writes that on becoming vice president in January 2001, Cheney formed a task force on energy which he chaired. “Cheney convened his secret task force within 10 days of taking office. Who participated? What was discussed? Oh, you can’t ask that. Those details were private. It was a matter of Executive privilege.

“That was Cheney’s position when Congress asked about the task force and its deliberations. Cheney went on to fight every effort for scrutiny all the way to the Supreme Court where his duck-hunting friend, Justice Antonin Scalia, supported his position.”

Iacocca further writes: “To this day we don’t know what actually transpired in those meetings convened by Dick Cheney. But we know who attended. It is the oil executives. Well, even without the details it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the meetings by the task force had a certain tilt–oil, oil, and more oil.

“Over the years, bits and pieces of information have dribbled out about the task force, including its preoccupation with Iraqi oil. Documents released in 2003 include a map of Iraqi oil fields, pipelines, refineries, and terminals, as well as a chart detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document titled ”Foreign suitors for Iraqi oil field contracts. So, in early 2001, oil-men inside and outside the White House were already dreaming of a post-Saddam Hussein oil bonanza!”

Mark you, that was before the September 11 terrorist attack on the US happened, and which America used as an excuse to invade Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Arm-twisting at Independence

Back to the Kenya/Somalia dispute, there is a history to it. At independence, the US was concerned that rival Soviet Union would want to use Somalia as their toe-hold for control of the Horn of African and gain access to mineral wealth buried in the Kenyan shores of the Indian Ocean. Of particular concern in Washington was that the British would give in to blackmail by Somalia–at the behest of the Russians–and surrender Kenya’s Northern Frontier District (what became North Eastern Province) to Somalia.

In a memo to US President John Kennedy, National Security Advisor Robert Boner expressed concern that, “the British have long encouraged the Somalis to think the UK would give them Kenya’s NFD before granting independence to Kenya.”

Washington was least amused specifically when a conference was held in Rome to decide on the future of Kenya’s NFD and the UK bowed to pressure from Mogadishu that Kenyan negotiators–Tom Mboya, Mbiyu Koinange, and James Gichuru–not come independently but as part of the British delegation to negotiate with Somalia.

President Kennedy reportedly told then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan that under no circumstances should British give in to pressure by Somalia and surrender Kenyan territory.