Kenya and Somalia in bitter dispute over Indian Ocean border

Saturday October 25 2014
oil rig

Offshore oil and gas exploration platforms in the Indian Ocean. PHOTO | FILE |

The simmering intra-regional disputes between states over their territorial and maritime boundaries have far-reaching security and geopolitical implications than has been envisaged.

Take the dispute between Kenya and Somalia over the Indian Ocean boundary, for example. This is a disagreement that has security ramifications not just for Kenya, but also for the US. For one, the US is keen to eliminate piracy and Islamic radicalism in Somalia that appears to have crossed over in to Kenya.

In addition, the claim by Somalia could affect Manda Bay, where Kenya has a naval base, Camp Simba. From here, where the US operates the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa and has been leading a joint counter-terrorism initiative besides providing training to the Kenya Navy.

The American interest may also be economic in the sense that its companies, Anadarko Petroleum and SOHI Oil and Gas, are involved in both onshore and offshore exploration for oil and gas around Lamu.

Somalia’s claim threatens to take away about 64,000 square kilometres from Kenya’s territorial waters, including part of the Lamu oil exploration basin.

“As a country, we cannot bear to lose an inch of all that territory…the Somali government had better co-operate with us,” said a senior Foreign Affairs Ministry official who declined to be named.


READ: Somalia: ‘It’s our water, sovereignty’

This dispute, like many others, is inspired by disagreement over resources within and beneath the ocean floor. A report by Indian Ocean Observatory says that Somalia believes that by leasing oil exploration blocks to Total and Eni oil companies, Kenya has contravened Somali Law No. 37, which defines Mogadishu’s continental shelf, its 200 nautical miles and territorial seas.

“This law was signed on September 10, 1972 and was reaffirmed on July 24, 1989 when Somali ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” reads the Indian Ocean Observatory report.

Having recognised the gravity of the issue, Kenya initiated a dialogue in June when President Uhuru Kenyatta met his Somali counterpart President Sheikh Mohamud.

Even before the engagement by the two presidents, Nairobi had initiated moves that led to the signing of memorandum of understanding on the common maritime boundary between a former Somali minister for international co-operation (during the Transitional Federal Government) and the Kenyan foreign minister on April 7, 2009.

But the deal was later rejected by the Somali parliament in a decision that was endorsed by the then Somali premier, Abdi Farah Shirdon, who ruled out any discussion on the matter. Further, reports show that in June 2013, Shirdon chaired a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Mogadishu in which his government termed the MoU between the two countries “null and void.”

By prompting Somalia to enter into the MoU with it in 2009, Kenya was trying to meet a May 2009 deadline set by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLOS), which required countries to submit agreements with neighbouring states on the limits and orientations of their maritime boundaries.

UNCLOS asks states with shared coastlines to agree on the extents of three different areas – their territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves. Launched in 1982 and signed by 130 countries by 1994, UNCLOS seeks to establish the sea limits and sovereignty of states on the use of the sea and allows coastal countries to seek an extension of their exclusive economic zones beyond the 200 nautical-mile’ limit.

Since Somalia had rejected the MoU with Kenya, the UN refused to endorse it, terming it “non-actionable” on March 12, 2010. After declining Kenya’s overtures, the Somali government filed a case against the latter in the International Court of Justice in February.

This appears to have prompted Kenya to treat the matter seriously, going by statements by Attorney General, Githu Muigai, and officials in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Kenya has reason to be worried because the Somali government announced that it had completed surveys of the relevant area and planned to start issuing offshore oil and gas exploration licences by 2015.

Kenya’s resources are subdivided into four oil exploration basins — Mandera, Anza, Tertiary Rift and Lamu — over 485,000 square kilometres. The Lamu Basin, at 261,000 square kilometres, is the biggest with 31 blocks — 18 offshore, 7 onshore and 6 that are both onshore and offshore.

The simmering conflict appears inspired by two factors. One is the ownership of the vast reserves of oil, natural gas and other minerals that have either been discovered or are believed to exist in the ocean. For example, reports from Pancontinental say that Block L6 alone could have 3.7 billion barrels of oil and 10.2 trillion cubic feet of gas.

At the same time, there is optimism that more deposits of oil and gas will be found, going by the discoveries made offshore Mozambique and Tanzania (which share the same rock formations with Kenya’s continental shelf). Companies licensed by the two countries have discovered gas totalling more than 170 trillion cubic feet

Related to the dispute is the scramble for the resources particularly by multinational companies which have been granted exploration licences particularly in the offshore blocks and the desire by the states that have put a claim to the resources to acquire the likely revenues.

Somalia appears to have been rattled by Kenya’s continued licensing of companies to prospect for oil in the disputed part of the ocean. This is apparent in Mogadishu’s application to the International Court of Justice in which the latter protests the continued “activities of oil companies under licence to Kenya in maritime zones claimed by the Somali Republic.”

Kenya has 44 oil and gas exploration blocks licensed to 23 international oil companies and one to the National Oil Corporation of Kenya.

In the Lamu Basin, Total, Eni, Anadarko, BG Group, Apache Corporation, Origin Energy and Pancontinental of Australia, which discovered vast gas reserves in Block L8 in the Lamu Basin in September 2012 and oil in June in the same basin.