Somalia-Kenya maritime row fuelled by 'business interests'

Saturday June 29 2019

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma addresses the media outside her office on May 21, 2019. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

By Aggrey Mutambo

Kenya and Somalia's maritime boundary case is an unfortunate dispute fuelled by “commercial interests” which could break down security cooperation, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma has said.

In London on Thursday, Dr Juma said foreign entities interested in oil and natural gas are taking advantage of Somalia’s weaknesses, a circumstance she warned could force the region off focus in the fight against terror and sea piracy.

Kenya has had troops in Somalia since October 2011 and is now part of the African Union Mission in Somalia that is fighting terror group Al-Shabaab.

Last week, it was elected chair of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, an ad hoc group of countries sanctioned by the UN Security Council in cooperating against piracy.

No ceding

But Somalia and Kenya, which belong to the group, are also fighting over maritime boundary.


The top Kenyan diplomat told a gathering of defence policy experts that the dispute, now the subject of a case at the International Court of Justice, has been influenced by foreign commercial bodies she didn’t name.

“This issue, we believe, is the surest demonstration of the effects of commercial interests in the context of a fragile country,” Dr Juma said during a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

“We have been witness to an unprecedented provocation including an attempt by a commercial entity engaging in an activity that amounts to redrawing international maritime boundaries. While we have remained restrained in our reaction, we have firmly demanded the retracting of those maps by Somalia and explanation of their intention.”

She added, “The bottom line is this: we will deploy all necessary measures to adhere to our sworn constitutional imperative and duty to protect the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the republic: we will cede, not an inch of our territory.”


Somalia sued Kenya at the ICJ, demanding to redraw the current sea boundary so that it runs diagonal, extending from the land border, as opposed to eastwards south of Kiunga.

The hearing is set for September 9, according to a schedule released early this week by the ICJ.

The problem though, Nairobi argues, is that some entities have been prospecting oil and gas in the very area contested by both sides.

Two weeks ago, Kenya protested to Norway after one of its firm, DNO, used contested maps to determine the oil stock.

Another Norwegian consulting firm, Spectrum Geo, caused a stir after Mogadishu used its data from the area to market its oil stock to investors.

Despite the protests, both Mogadishu and Spectrum deny trespassing.

Political solution

Dr Juma’s speech at the RUSI, a think-tank on defence issues, signals another bid by Nairobi to have a political, rather than courtroom solution for the dispute.

In Nairobi, senior  diplomats argued RUSI audience meant she could reach key UK policy influencers to get Kenya’s stance on the dispute.

In meetings with UK government and business leaders, Dr Juma had argued that the decision of a court sitting in the Hague, and whose jurisdiction Kenya had contested, was unlikely to help with a final word on a matter she thinks raises political questions.

“It would be very unwise to let commercial interests – Western commercial interests, at that – delay the settlement of the dispute by entering agreements with either party. We hope that you can work with us to make this perfectly clear to these interests,” she later said at RUSI.

Political risks

In London to attend the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which examines violations of democratic principles, Dr Juma’s lecture was on “Emerging security in Eastern Africa, from piracy to maritime security: tracing opportunities and risks.”

Here, she told the audience that the commercial interests in Somalia could jeopardise revival efforts even inside Somalia itself, as foreign bodies target specific units of the government to destabilise it.

“On the ground, the rivalry and posturing in this region is generating political risks.  In Somalia, two opposed alliances have emerged and are translating into a political environment that is creating opportunities for negative forces," she said.

“Each of the two broad alliances is assumed to support either the central or federal units of the Somalia government. This has caused political fracture and diminished the imperative for cooperation, the most poignant effect being that of emboldening Al-Shabaab.”

She didn’t name the entities, but Somalia’s federal states have recently bickered with the central government in Mogadishu over whether to independently sign port development deals with foreign firms.

Competing interests

In 2018, Mogadishu ‘cancelled’ a deal Puntland had entered with Dubai firm DP World, saying it violated territorial integrity.

The Somali Parliament subsequently said it had banned DP World from doing business on its soil, nullifying 30-year concession deals for managing Bossaso port in Puntland and Berbera in Somaliland.

The problem though is that Somalia still uses an interim constitution and there is little clarity on what federal states can or cannot do in foreign engagements.

While these controversies involved ports, the discovery of oil in the seas has also fuelled frequent wrangles.

Kenya believes these competing interests are and the spill-over effects of the Gulf crisis, “have left Somalia politically and economically fragile".