Opinion: Kenya Somalia maritime border dispute could throw whole region into dispute

By Zakayo Mwangi

A maritime border dispute case filed by Somalia before the International Court of Justice is likely to affect other countries in the region should the court rule in Somalia’s favor.

The case that has currently been shelved as the two countries try a new round of dialogue would also place three Tanzanian blocks in dispute should the court favor the median line petition and not the currently existing horizontal border line.

Among Tanzanian blocks that would be open to dispute include Blocks 12, 11 and 10 with a possibility of a portion of Block 9 also likely to be included. Three of this blocks are licensed to Shell and the last Dominion Energy.

Kenya would also have a right to claim a portion of Pemba Island that lies directly South East its border with its neighbor Tanzania.

Currently hope lies on dialogue between Somalia and Kenya with the two countries said to be considering it as a means to settle the dispute.

“Pending such an agreement or understanding, Somalia requests the Commission not to take any steps that would prejudice any future bilateral delimitation in the maritime area concerned,” the Business Daily quotes a request by Somalia to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

In late August Somalia filed a maritime dispute case at the Hague based court laying claim to a triangle of water stretching more than 100,000 a sq kilometers (approx. 40,000 sq miles) of which Kenya has awarded exploration contracts to various international companies.

“Kenya’s current position on the maritime boundary is that it should be a straight line emanating from the Parties’ land boundary terminus, and extending due east along the parallel of latitude on which the land boundary terminus sits, through the full extent of the territorial sea, EEZ and continental shelf, including the continental shelf beyond 200 [nautical miles],” reads an application by Somalia.

Following the dispute Kenya risked losing seven blocks including include Blocks L5, L21, L22, L23, L24 and L26 some of which are licensed to companies including Eni, Andarko and Total.

Somalia has also filed similar cases against Tanzania and Yemen.

Part of the reason for the maritime dispute could be as a result of considered oil and gas potential in the East African coast that has seen large discoveries of natural gas especially in Tanzania and Mozambique and which is considered to extend northwards towards the Red Sea.

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Author: Samuel Kamau Mbote

3 thoughts on “Opinion: Kenya Somalia maritime border dispute could throw whole region into dispute

  1. Perhaps, Kenya too cannot escape the resource curse after all. Nice story. Provides mental stimulus for further research. But hey Masha Kamau Mbote, it still beats my logic why civil conflicts are more prevalent in resource-dependent regions than in others? Wish you could unravel the mechanisms on why oil and gas are linked to armed conflict in developing worlds. I also wonder why oil and natural gas are highly valuable natural resources, yet many countries with large untapped reserves report poor economic and social-welfare index. This is a genuine conundrum some people call resource curse. Do you think the resource curse is a result of poor governance and wealth distribution structures that allow the elite to monopolize resources for self-gain?

    1. Thank you, Robin and Samuel, for your contributions. They are appreciated.

      In my view, careful scrutiny is required of the information submitted by both Kenya and Somalia (and, I guess, Tanzania) regarding the criteria specified in Article 76 of UNCLOS to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). It makes for an intriguing read. I suggest anyone interested in this matter takes time to look up this publicly-available information.

      My take? When viewed from a legal perspective (rather than on the basis of political science), I believe that both sides could reach agreement on how to jointly develop those blocks, just as other countries have done–which have also found themselves with disputed national maritime boundaries.

      But lets see what comes of the mutual discussions, and failing which, what the ICJ decides.

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