Kenya-Somalia Maritime Dispute and Fierce Diplomatic Relation: What has to be done in strengthening their relations!

Kenya vs Somaliat

We live in a world where we can watch disasters and suffering unfold around the world. But do we actually notice what is happening to those involved?

Africa, in general, is largely absent from classical geopolitics and cross-border conflicts for the last two decades. However, Middle East (Gulf) geopolitics and economic rivalry has long been a threat to Somalia’s security and economy due to its proximity to the region. Somalia has long been considered a failed state without a functioning government after the fall of its central government in 1990.

Recently, Kenya and Somalia are involved in a bitter maritime boundaries dispute after Somalia deemed Kenya’s activities- where considered to be part of its territory as a violation of territorial integrity. The territory in question is 100,000 square kilometers of Indian Ocean believed to hold oil, gas, and mineral blocks.

In August 2014, Somalia filed a case before the International Court of justice (ICJ) over the maritime dispute. Somalia wants the maritime border to run diagonally as an extension of the land boundary while Kenya claims it to run parallel to the latitude, eastwards of the border. Since then, there is a fierce diplomatic relations between the two neighbors. The maritime dispute gained traction, Kenya prefers to resolve the matter out of court, while Somalia wants the case to be heard by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On February 2019, the Kenyan government expelled Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya, and recalled its envoy to Mogadishu in a protest what it described “auctioning” oil and gas exploration blocks at the center of a maritime territorial dispute in the Indian Ocean by the Somali government. A mediation effort led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seemed to have yielded positive results with Kenya and Somalia agreeing to deescalate tense relations. In May 20th, 2019, Kenya Immigration officials denied a number of Somali officials with diplomatic passports access into the country. In the next week, Kenya slammed another air travel restriction on Somalia by banning “unaccompanied luggage” on aircraft from Somalia, claiming for “security considerations.” Though, Kenya did not provide any specific case(s) where “unaccompanied” bags or “undocumented” travelers flown into their country. According to one of the largest newspaper in Kenya, The Standard, Kenya drew a list of 66 Somalia officials banned from entering the country, including a Somali minister, a former PM, a member of parliament, the deputy head of Somalia’s intelligence agency and the owners of a telecommunication firm, the latest round of a diplomatic standoff between the two neighbors.

It is clear that Kenya’s aggressive escalation emerged from Somalia’s refusal to resolve the maritime case out of court, which is pending before ICJ and due to be heard on September 2019. Somalia’s leadership demonstrated a mature diplomatic behavior by not retaliating Kenya’s diplomatic escalation.

 Potential Risks:

Over 3500 Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) is serving Somalia under the African Union Mission in the fight of Al-Shabaab (AMISOM & AU).

Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee camp in the world, mostly Somalis, has a population of 235,269 refugees and asylum seekers (UNHCR, 2018).

Somali business community is involved in almost every sectors of Kenya’s economy; from traditional hawala (remittance) banking, real estate, construction; transportation, energy, forex sectors to general trade. Additionally, there is ethnic-Somali-Kenyan community in the country; therefore, the ethnic kinship system facilitated the process of the rise Somali business enterprises.

The quarrel between the two countries over offshore oil and gas deposits is likely to affect many lives of citizens of the two countries, their economies; refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma camps; and the war on terror that demands the two governments working together. The intensity of this clash can and would result an unacceptable consequences for both countries and the region.

What Is To Be Done

Despite all the challenges described above, there is still a good chance to push things through in diplomatic process. To avoid such outcome, both countries must develop a common diplomatic approach, or, at least overlapping foreign policy approaches. The principal element of their foreign policies should be a shared respect for one another’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that reduces the frequency and intensity of meddling one another’s internal affairs, as a result, the chance of direct and/or in direct conflict. I am suggesting something fundamentally great approach to make the goals of diplomacy, to preserve and expand areas of cooperation.

Both countries must avoid a linkage for the use of suctions as a tool of foreign policy that would cause collateral damage to other important relationships. If suction becomes unavoidable in response to each other’s deemed “illegitimate” actions, the suctions should be as narrow as possible by designing in a way it can be easily modified or removed if circumstances warrant. The reason I am recommending to narrow the suctions is, both historically and practically, suctions alone can rarely accomplish big and long-term goals, and they have unintended and undesired consequences, including hurting civilians.

Both countries should consider another important foreign policy mechanism, economic diplomacy. Doing so will require time-consuming consultations of both countries’ business leaders. There are stronger informal Somali business industries in Kenya and Somalia that contributes a lot to both countries’ economies.  Hence, both countries should encourage and advocate for formal business establishments with enabling regulatory environment to prevent subversive activities.

Lastly, the era of advance technology and globalization, the world is too small and too connected for borders to provide cover for activities that by definition can affect adversely those live outside their borders. Almost everyone and anything from tourists, terrorists, and both migrants and refugees can travel and reach any and every corner of the entire eastern Africa region and beyond.  Hence, both countries should know that the International Court of Justice plays an important role in resolving disputes and promoting international peace and security; and therefore, both parties must comply and respect the merit of ICJ’s verdict regardless of the outcome. The neighbors should press more peaceful path in strengthening their diplomatic relations, and adapt the realities of their interconnected interests.  The goal is to build consensus around a bigger approach to sovereignty, one that includes obligation beyond the maritime dispute.

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