NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 – An Ethiopian-led mediation process kicked off in Nairobi Wednesday to resolve the latest diplomatic row between Kenya and Somalia over a 62,000 square miles triangle of disputed maritime territory in the Indian Ocean.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi arrived in the country Tuesday night accompanied by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia for talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
There was no official statement from State House or Foreign Affairs Ministry on the arrival of the two leaders or their mission, but sources in the offices confirmed they were in the country over the maritime dispute.
Ahmed and Kenyatta are said to have discussed the matter briefly on the margins of the Kenya-Ethiopia high level trade forum in Addis Ababa last weekend, in a diplomatic strategy employed by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma and her Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau.
Ahmed’s intervention is the latest in a raft of measures adopted by Nairobi in a bid to amicably resolve the dispute with Somalia.
Mid last month, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent Somalia’s diplomat in Kenya to Mogadishu and recalled her representative stationed in Mogadishu, Lt. General (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo for what PS Kamau described as “urgent consultations.”
PS Kamau accused Somalia of unilaterally selling off oil and gas blocks in the disputed maritime territory at a London auction on February 7 while announcing the drastic measures.
MFA had termed the move “unparalleled affront on Kenya” vowing that the “illegal grab” will not go unanswered.
“This outrageous and provocative auction deserves and will be met with a unanimous and resounding rejection by all Kenyans as well as all people of goodwill who believe in the maintenance of international law and order and the peaceful and legal resolution of disputes,” Amb Kamau said on February 16, during a news conference at the ministry’s headquarters in Nairobi.
Kenya particularly faulted Mogadishu for engaging in the London auction in total disregard of ongoing mediation processes and a boundary delimitation case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) filed by Somalia on August 28, 2014.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Juma told Capital FM News last Wednesday the ministry had drawn the attention of United Nation and African Union Security Councils to the unfolding maritime border dispute.
Juma said the envoys were briefed to provide clarity on the matter.
“We briefed them on the situation between ourselves and Somalia, provided the facts to both councils and to draw their attention to the situation,” she said of the session she held on February 22 attended by among other foreign envoys Britain’s Nic Hailey and France’s Aline Kuster-Menager.
CS Juma however said Kenya was open to negotiation to find an amicable solution to the maritime dispute that sparked a diplomatic tiff between the two nations.
“We are committed to resolving any disputes in a negotiated manner and we’re hopefully that we’ll find the solution to the problem between ourselves and our brothers next door because our destinies are interlinked,” CS Juma said.
The contested area has four of the 24 oil blocks that have traditionally been under Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zone until Somalia’s legal challenge in 2014.
Speaking on Wednesday, CS Juma said Kenya had received positive responses from countries the foreign office engaged on the matter.
“The massage we’ve received from across the world is encouragement to resolve the matter amicably and therefore this is the process that we would prefer,” she said.
Kenya had challenged the admissibility of Somalia’s case at the ICJ in September 2016 on grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the application.
ICJ however dismissed the objection in February 2017 clearing the way submissions by the two parties.
The court fixed June 18, 2018 as the date by which Somalia was to file its submissions in court with Kenya given until December 18, 2018 to file its rejoinder to Somalia’s written pleadings.
Somalia has anchored its case on Article 15 of the Convention of the Law of Sea adopted in 1982, Kenya saying the disputed area was in fact under its jurisdiction before the convention was enacted.
Somalia wants the sea boarder extended along the land boarder, a plea which if granted could limit Kenya’s access to high seas on its Indian Ocean shore technically rendering the country landlocked