Kenya: Pan African Forum Wants ICJ to Defer Kenya-Somalia Maritime Dispute for Fear of Fresh Tensions

17 February 2021

Nairobi — The Pan African Forum has written to the Secretary-General, of the United Nations António Guterres, seeking his intervention to have the Kenya-Somalia maritime case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) deferred.

The forum's Chairman David Matsanga said proceeding with proceedings of the dispute at ICJ risks sparking fresh tensions and new conflicts in the region that is already volatile due to the shaky diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Somalia filed at the ICJ, seeking its intervention in defining its boundary with Kenya in the Indian Ocean, as laid down by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international sea laws.

"Mr Secretary General we believe that any ruling at ICJ at any time about the maritime border dispute will spark a vicious war in a region where the conflict of Somalia still rages on," Matsanga said in his letter to the UN boss.

The letter followed a decision by the ICJ rejecting Kenya's bid to have the maritime delimitation in the Indian ocean case with Somalia postponed for a fourth time.

The court's registrar Philippe Gautier on Saturday notified both Kenya and Somalia that the case will proceed as planned from March 15, 2021, in a hybrid format.

The matter was postponed for a third time in May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"There are millions of Africans in East Africa and in the horn of Africa region who are worried about the Kenya/Somalia case at ICJ," Matsanga told the UN in his letter, that also warned that "the world cannot afford another hostile region after the Libyan Mediterranean chaos that was caused by UN Security Council Resolution 1970 that dismembered Libya.

Matsanga said the the tensions in the region were largely accelerated since President Mohamed Farmajo took over power, and has warned that the ICJ ruling, if the maritime case is proceeds, will worsen the situation.

"Farmajo seems to be in a predicament due to the undue pressure by external forces, namely Turkey, UAE and Qatar, Norway and to some extent France," he said.

Kenya is among countries contributing troops to Somalia under the AMISOM. "In fact, the situation is made worse when one considers that Kenya, through Amisom, is one of the reasons why Somalia has a semblance of stability," Matsanga said.

The parties are seeking a resolution on the ownership of a 150,000 square-kilometer area off their Indian Ocean coastline, which both countries want to explore for oil, gas and fish.

READ: AU Security Council calls for Kenya-Somalia dialogue to resolve sea row

Somalia filed the boundary delimitation dispute on August 28, 2014, staking a claim on an estimated 62,000 square miles oil-rich triangle in the Indian Ocean.

Mogadishu's case is premised 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.

In February last year, Somalia rejected a Kenyan claim that it had auctioned off blocks in the area and said it would not take any unilateral action there prior to an ICJ ruling.

The disputed triangle of water is believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas in a part of Africa only recently found to be sitting on significant reserves.

Kenya maintains it has had sovereignty over the contested zone since 1979.

Somalia took the matter to court after saying diplomatic attempts to resolve the disagreement had led nowhere.

A final outcome will significantly impact a new source of revenue for either of the two countries but the case is set to last for several years.

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