Kenya defiant as Somalia celebrates water victory

Saturday October 16 2021
The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice holds hearings in the Kenya-Somalia case. PHOTO | FILE


The joke in Mogadishu’s streets is that Somalis normally don’t like fish and their traditional cuisine rarely features fish. So what will they do with the humongous acres of sea territory the International Court of Justice just granted them this week and which is thought to be rich in fish and hydrocarbons? It goes back to national pride. And President Mohamed Farmaajo made it clear this week in a reactionary speech when he said he rebutted Kenya’s attempts to have the cases withdrawn for negotiations.

“It was a just struggle that was based on a long vision, a deep knowledge, bravery, patriotism, the protection of public assets, and the defence of the nation and its people,” he told the country on Tuesday in a televised speech.

President Farmaajo was reacting to a decision of the ICJ to grant most of the claims on the sea territory to Somalia in a case in which Mogadishu had sued Nairobi in 2014, seeking a proper delimitation of their common sea border. And Farmaajo went on to brand Kenya’s dirty tricks to force Mogadishu to withdraw the case, including supposedly disrupting relations between various arms of government in Somalia.

“Ever since I was elected as your president, we have faced multiple political, security, financial and diplomatic challenges, which were attempts by the Kenyan leadership to divert the Somali people and their government from their decision to deliberate this case only at the International Court of Justice.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking from New York, said Nairobi will never accept or recognise a “zero-sum” decision of the court. He asked that an amicable solution be found through negotiations. The court, he said had made “a perpetuation of the ICJ’s jurisdictional overreach and raises a fundamental question on the respect of the sovereignty and consent of states” to international judicial processes.

“International tribunals have jurisdiction only to the extent of consent by a state,” he said. Rather than grant Somalia all the demands, the Court in fact adjusted the line of equidistance northwards, saving Kenya some 10,000 km2 of sea. With both leaders sticking to their grounds, just how easy will it be for Somalia to take its new territory, or for Kenya to hold on? One bitter pill for Kenya it initially underestimated the case, and only pulled out late when it had already submitted its side of the story. And then the Court used a pre-independence map between Italians and the British, the colonisers of Somalia and Kenya respectively. The 1927 map guided the Court to draw up a new maritime border line, based on beacons established at the time.


“Kenya’s rejection of the ICJ decision, which can’t be appealed, on the border dispute with Somalia is unwise,” said Makau Mutua, a Kenyan distinguished professor of law.

President Farmaajo indicated that the court’s verdict now opens a new ground of diplomatic relations between the two countries.