Kenya’s undiplomatic behavior toward Somalia signals failure at ICJ



The Kenyan government is pursuing a determined campaign, engaging in outlandish and undiplomatic behavior, and targets Somalia so as to pressure Mogadishu to withdraw an International Court of Justice (ICJ) maritime dispute case it filed against the former in 2014.

On Feb. 16, 2019, Kenya expelled Somalia’s Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Mohamoud Nour and recalled its envoy. It labeled Somalia an enemy state trying to grab its natural resources.

On May 21, top Somali diplomats, including ministers and deputies, were denied entry at Jomo Kenyatta Airport for what aviation authorities described as “lack of visas.” The officials were invited to take part in a high-level EU sponsored cross-border conflict management program in Nairobi.

It also ordered Somali flights to be investigated at Wajer, banning unaccompanied luggage on aircraft arriving from Somalia, disseminating security fears over Somalia’s direct flights. Kenyan media was also complicit in the pressure strategy. The Standard Digital newspaper accused Somalia of putting Lamu oil blocks on sale, a claim which Somalia swiftly rejected.

Kenya has suspended fishing activities off the coast near the Somali border over what it termed a security precaution.

The neighboring countries are now wrangling over a sea dispute at the ICJ with both claiming a 100,000 square kilometer sea shelf believed to be rich in oil deposits and other significant mineral resources.

On Aug. 28, 2014, Somalia took Kenya to the U.N.’s highest court, suspecting the latter has given the green light to foreign oil exploration companies. But Kenya insisted that the ICJ has no role in taking the case and that it has alternatives to settle the issue with Somalia, citing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed back in 2009.

On Feb. 2, 2017, the court annulled Kenya’s objection to proceeding to a full hearing of the case. Kenya has since launched a full-blown diplomatic war against Somalia and accused its neighbor of auctioning oil blocks within its maritime borders.

Somalia, which is recuperating from two decades of conflicts, has shown more political maturity than Kenya in respecting the case with the ICJ. Kenya, on the other hand, in a diplomatic letter to Somalia on May 21, said that it will use a military force if Somali locals hinder the construction of a fence along its border with Somalia. This is another sign showing that Nairobi has taken Mogadishu’s magnanimity and silence for granted.

It’s not working

These bullying tactics have no place in international relations and it’s obvious that even superpower governments have botched this option. Kenya thinks that it has leverage over the game as Somalia has no strong functioning government since the collapse of the former government in 1991.

Kenya’s suicidal politics only begets regional instability and is jeopardizing the very friendly ties it previously shared with Mogadishu. Intellectuals envisage that Kenya’s egregious decisions might even damage its regional integrity.

The U.N.’s only headquarter in the region is located in Nairobi, where Kenya’s aviation authorities confiscated and forced top Somali diplomats to sleep at the airport. These developments are making U.N. and other regional partners more anxious.

Kenya is more democratic than other states in the region and its people are renowned for their warm hospitality. That’s why the U.N. had picked Kenya over other states, including Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the al-Shabaab terrorist group in Africa might launch new cross-border attacks, which is blocking any trade that both nations could have. This would have huge economic implications in the future.

Nigeria and Cameroon had once been at loggerheads for years over the Bakkasi dispute at the ICJ and that conflict had claimed the lives of 34 people in 1994 after a bloody clash between the two countries.

The Nigerian government was behaving like Kenya is today and they tried everything in their power to force Cameroon to pull the case from the court, unfortunately, the ICJ ruled in favor of Cameroon in 2002. I think that this story tells us something very important.

If Somalia retaliates, Kenya could lose its position at the U.N.-backed operations of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and investments worth $4 billion made by Somalis in Nairobi.

The international partners that collaborate with Somalia could also move their conferences and other crucial events to another safer capital, which is putting Kenya in a position where it can lose indirect revenues that are usually spent in Nairobi. The Somali government must also mitigate Kenya’s role in the Jubbaland state, which is Nairobi’s only space in Somalia’s political spectrum. Kenya’s unwavering measures will not bring Somalia to its knees, but will only deteriorate the regional crisis, including the fight against al-Shabaab, which is not a Somali problem anymore. A sensible solution would require Kenya re-establish its foreign relations with Somalia and act as a big brother, seeking warmer and more diplomatic ways it can deal with the bigger issues such as the ICJ case. Also, Kenya’s Foreign Cabinet Secretary Moica Juma must consult with the right people when working on policy toward Somalia.

Faysal Mohamed

* Somali journalist and political analyst based in Istanbul


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