A dispute over Somalia’s territorial waters has escalated into dangerous levels when Kenya suddenly and without warning recalled its ambassador Lt-Gen (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo and expelled his Somali counterpart Mohamoud Ahmed Nur aka Tarzan out of the country last saturday.

The dispute has been brewing for some time. It began when Kenya laid claim to Somalia’s territorial waters whilst Somalis were busy fighting among themselves, doing so in close a quarter of century.

The kenyan claim could not have come at a worse point with regards to the history of Somalia. It coincided with a period when Somalia was under the Ethiopian occupation (2006-2009). Somalis at home and in the of the time had only one priority: to mount fierce resistance with an aim to defeat the occupying army. The Ethiopians eventually withdrew: defeated and humiliated.

Meanwhile, Kenya proceeded meticulously and canningly by luring the Somali cabinet at the time to ‘sign’ what was to become the infamous Memorandum of Understanding or MOU in 2009. Under the MOU Somalia ceded the ‘claim’ of the maritime zone in question, according to Kenya. The Somali minister who signed the MOU on Somalia’s behalf had a different interpretation. The minister said he only presided over an ‘understanding’ that pertained to a possibility of reaching an amicable and peaceful settlement of any ‘maritime dispute’ that might arise between the two neighbours in the future. The MOU was eventually rejected by the Somali parliament that declared it null and void.

Kenya never stopped by only claiming Somali territorial waters but also succeeded in changing the semantics. All over sudden ‘the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute’ was all over the place. For many Somalis, Kenya’s move is a kin with a popular Somali saying ku qabso adi meyside which loosely translates to ‘lay claim to something that is not yours and get something, at least’.

The conflict came into the fore when Somalia went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague in 2016 and objected to Kenya’s unilateral move of awarding contracts and prospecting rights to Western oil companies. By the time Somali went to the ICJ many of these companies were already active in the maritime zone in question prospecting for oil and gas.

Kenya objected to the jurisdiction of the ICJ and arguing that it signed an MOU with Somalia that settled the matter and that any disagreement between the nations has to be arbitrated through bilateral mechanism to be worked out between the two countries. Somalia insisted the right court to mediate its ‘maritime disputes’ with Kenya is the ICJ at the Hague.

For a long time Somalia was at war with itself. At lone point of time Somalia faded away and went into a long coma as nations flocked from afar and near to lend a hand. Whist some were benevolent in their intentions and deeds others had sinister motives. The latter came in with all sorts of pretexts often disregarding Somalia’s territorial integrity and independence. For too long a number of these nations abided and abated the ongoing conflict in Somalia. Instead of mediating between feuding Somali rivals they armed each and every of them to square their disputes militarily. That ensured Somalia to languish in perpetual chaos and conflict making peace ever elusive.

Kenya’s efforts in Somalia was double-edged. On one hand it absorbed hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and hosted numerous conferences that aimed to politically settle the conflict in Somalia. On the other hand Kenya sent its army into Somalia in october 2016 to create a buffer zone bringing the Somali state of Jubaland Juba region entirely under its grip. Note, Kenya sent its army without the consent of Somalia.

Somalia and Kenya have also an unsettled land border dispute that seems dormant albeit unforgotten or unforgiven on the part of Somalis. Somalis know that this is not the time to raise the issue of land border with Kenya for practical reasons. Instead they have opted for peace and patience. One expects Kenya to register this.

To conclude, the current dispute is initiated by Kenya, by taking advantage of the weakness of Somalia. To its credit Somalia has not reciprocated with an aggression but referred the case to ICJ and seems to have taken the moral high ground, if we go by the statements released by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Kenya must therefore desist från unilateral actions, diplomatic or otherwise. Kenya must above all put its faith in the ICJ and wait for the decision of court as Somalia has done. The decision of the ICJ is binding and this current ‘dispute’ will have to come to rest sooner or later. The two nations have a lot to gain from cooperating in the future.

ringing you a different perspektive