Nairobi — Kenya and Somalia are set to normalise diplomatic relations after nearly two months of diplomatic tensions over a maritime border dispute.
Foreign Ministers of both countries expressed "a strong desire to normalise relations," with an agreement to allow their respective ambassadors return to their diplomatic postings in Nairobi and Mogadishu following a meeting in Nairobi on Wednesday.
According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma and her Somalia counterpart Ahmed Issa Awad discussed outstanding issues arising from Somalia's decision to offer potential oil fields lying in a disputed 62,000 square mile Indian Ocean triangle to foreign investors at a London auction on February 7.
"We reaffirmed our strong desire to normalise relations and agreed, as a first step, to have our ambassadors return to their stations," Kenya's Foreign Affairs office tweeted.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau led the MFA protest at Somalia's move summoning Ambassador Lt. General (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo for what he as "urgent consultations" while referring the horn of Africa country envoy to Mogadishu for the same.
In a strongly-worded statement issued on February 16, Amb Kamau described actions by Mogadishu as an "unparalleled affront on Kenya" and an "illegal grab" that 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 at the time.
Signs of warming relations between the two States emerged on early last month when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia mediated talks between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Somalia's Mohammed Abdulahi.
Although State House did not release an official communiqué of the meeting held in Nairobi on March 6, Ahmed's office said the parties had resolved to amicably resolve differences of the maritime border dispute which is before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
"Through the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed, Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohammed Abdullahi met this morning to discuss extensively on the source of the two countries dispute. As an outcome both agreed to work towards peace and to take measures in addressing particular issues that escalated the tensions," Ahmed's office said.
A translated message issued by President Abdullahi's office said the meeting discussed recent diplomatic tensions adding Somalia and Kenya had committed to strengthen their working relationship.
He expressed gratitude to Ahmed for "spearheading the dialogue aimed at restoring the positive working relations that exist between the Somali and Kenyan government" while describing the talks as fruitful.
"President Farmajo (Abdullahi) and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta have had a fruitful meeting at State House this morning. The main agenda for the meeting was to find a solution to diplomatic differences," his office said.
"They also held talks on how to combat terrorism in the region and formulate measures to bring peace and stability," Abdullahi's press office added.
The loud silence by State House on the meeting and the concealed reception of Prime Minister Ahmed and President Abdullahi had sent tongues wagging as it remained unclear whether or not Nairobi was committed to the mediation process.
Prior to the March 6 mediation meeting, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had held a series of meetings with foreign diplomats including envoys whose nations sit in the United Nation and African Union Security Councils to brief them on the unfolding situation.
Amb Juma had told Capital FM News on February 27 her ministry had briefed ambassadors of nations with membership at the United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council in a bid 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.
Among foreign envoys who attended the meeting with top officials of the Foreign Ministry on February 22 included Britain's Nic Hailey and France's Aline Kuster-Menager.
Ababu Namwamba, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Foreign Ministry had said Kenya's territorial integrity was non-negotiable adding the envoys were assured the country's "unimpeachable pedigree as epitome of good neighbourliness."
The contested maritime area has four of the 24 oil blocks that had traditionally been under Kenya's Exclusive Economic Zone until Somalia's legal challenge in 2014.
Kenya had challenged the admissibility of Somalia's case at 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 for 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.