Property spat strains already frayed Kenya-Somalia relations

Saturday September 14 2019

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma in February

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma in February, demanding that Somalia withdraw illegal maps of a disputed maritime zone after the Cabinet okayed a roadmap to resolve the row. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

BRIAN WASUNA
By BRIAN WASUNA
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AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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A Kenyan contractor has accused the Somali Embassy in Nairobi of detaining and torturing a process server who attempted to deliver court filings from an ongoing suit, further straining frayed diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Amos Mutambu claims to have been stopped from leaving the Somali Embassy in Nairobi moments after he had served the consulate with court papers at their offices off Dennis Pritt road in Nairobi, on September 2.

He has made the detention claims in court filings as well as in a protest letter sent on September 4 to the Kenyan Foreign Affairs and International Trade Secretary, Monica Juma.

Mr Mutambu had been sent by HMS Advocates to deliver pleadings in a court dispute between a Kenyan contractor and the Embassy, arising from alleged renovation works carried out on an old Somali government-owned property in Nairobi.

The Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs is said to have held a meeting with Somali Embassy officials to discuss the matter, even as Ms Juma on Friday said the Kenyan contractor’s advocates may have failed to observe the right “administrative process for serving embassies” with legal notices.

“We will find out what had happened,” Ms Juma said at a press briefing in Nairobi.

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$200 million claim

The Somalia Ambassador to Nairobi Mohamud Omar ‘Tarsan’ in an interview with The EastAfrican denied the detention allegations, but acknowledged the embassy had received a “$200 million claim plus interest” from the Kenyan contractor.

The allegations come at a time of strained relations between Kenya and Somalia owing to a raging maritime boundary dispute.

“There has been no detention of any kind. We do not have rooms to detain anyone. I think they are taking advantage of the current political differences between Kenya and Somalia to defraud us,” said Mr Omar.

The Kenyan court server claims in the court filings that he was only released from detention after an acknowledgement stamped on the court documents was erased using whiteout, and the filing receipt issued by the court torn into two pieces.

Mr Mutambu claims in the Milimani High Court filings that security guards at the entrance to the embassy took his mobile phone at the entrance, before directing him to the reception where two women were manning the desk.

The women perused the court filings before acknowledging receipt. A Mr Aden, however, intercepted the process server on his way out, sparking off the drama.

Renovation

In the dispute, Kingsley Construction Ltd has sued the embassy for withholding $226,318 (Ksh23.4 million) payment for renovation of a separate property in Nairobi’s Lower Kabete area owned by Somalia.

Kingsley had signed a contract with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia to the Republic of Kenya in 2016 for the renovation of the Lower Kabete property.

The firm’s operations manager Everlyne Mutungi argues that Somalia locked it out of the project site and intends to contract another firm to finish the remaining 20 per cent portion of works.

She added that the new contractor is set to use equipment and material acquired by Kingsley Construction hence Somalia’s move is an illegal back door out of the renovation deal.

Somalia has refused to engage Kingsley and locked out the firm’s workers and directors from the project site in Lower Kabete, Nairobi, according to the court filings.

The Somali Embassy is yet to file its response to the case, arguing that any court pleadings are supposed to be served through Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

High Court judge Mary Kasango has issued a temporary order barring the embassy or anyone acting on its behalf from undertaking further renovations or construction at the Lower Kabete property.

Legal bills

Justice Kasango has also ordered the Embassy of Somalia to foot the legal bills for the application that led to issuing of the freeze orders.

The two nations are engaged in a heated maritime territorial battle over oil and gas exploration blocks that have reportedly been put up for auction.

Diplomatic tension between Nairobi and Mogadishu has heightened this year following the dispute, often playing out in the open.

The ICJ will hear the case for five days starting November 4, 2019.

Nairobi recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu, Lt Gen Lucas Tumbo in February after it emerged that Somalia had put the disputed oil blocks.

On the same day, Nairobi expelled Somalia’s envoy to Kenya Mohamoud Ahmed Nur after terming the planned auction as a provocation and an attempt to grab Kenya’s resources.

In May, Kenya denied visas to three Somali officialsjunior Minister of Water and Energy Osman Libah and legislators Ilyas Ali Hassan and Zamzam Dahir—who were planning to attend the European Union-sponsored cross-border conflict management programme in Nairobi.

Somalia wrote a protest letter to Nairobi over the incident, while also disputing Kenyan directives that require aircraft from Mogadishu to undergo further security checks at Wajir airport before proceeding to Nairobi.

In retaliation to the visa incident, Mogadishu barred any of its officials from attending any meetings in Nairobi.

The Mogadishu retaliation also gave Somali charity organisations operating in Kenya a month’s notice to relocate to Mogadishu or face sanctions.

Mogadishu’s Ministry of Health and Human Resources also asked United Nations agencies and donors to reschedule any meetings that were to be held in Nairobi.

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