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Uhuru, Farmajo talk tough after UN’s top court border verdict


TROUBLED WATERS: Map showing disputed maritime area.
Image: FILE

Kenya and Somalia are talking tough after the UN’s top court verdict, signalling further diplomatic tensions between the two countries. 

The International Court of Justice on Tuesday awarded Somalia control of most of a potentially oil- and gas-rich chunk of the Indian Ocean after a bitter legal battle over their sea border.

However, President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government will do whatever it takes to “protect, by all means, our territory”.

“I do not intend to abrogate my solemn oath; I will do everything possible as President and Commander-in-Chief to preserve the territory of this great republic and bequeath the same, intact and unencumbered,” Uhuru said.

His tough talk was seen as a warning salvo at Somalia that Kenya will not cede an inch of its maritime territory.

Somalia President Mohammed Farmaajo asked Kenya to “respect the international rule of law.”

The court is supposed to be the final arbiter in disputes between nations.

But given that Kenya has rejected the verdict, Somalia has the option of escalating the dispute to the United Nations Security Council.

Kenya is a non-permanent member of the UN security council and is the current president of the 15-member agency in a monthly leadership rotation. 

While the court’s decisions are binding, the court has no enforcement powers and countries have been known to ignore its verdicts. 

Kenya is in a fix because the ICJ said the country does not have any legal grounds to reject the judgement because it signed up to its authority in the 1960s and can’t retroactively renege on that. 

In a statement, Uhuru said Kenya would reject in “in totality” the decision by the ICJ that favoured Somalia in a seven-year-long dispute over a maritime border in the Indian Ocean. 

The decision, Uhuru argued, embodies “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. 

“In fact, Kenya doubts that any state would have appeared at all in a case such as this,” Uhuru said in a statement from New York where he had travelled to chair a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday. 

“Kenya, therefore, calls on the international community to create an enabling environment for the pursuit of a negotiated settlement. This decision is, in the circumstances, a zero-sum game, which will strain the relations between the two countries.” 

But in a speech,  Farmaajo urged Kenya to “respect the international rule of law”. 

“It should instead see the decision of the court as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship of the two countries,” he said. 

Farmaajo gave a historical context of the maritime dispute, saying Kenya has previously resorted to different attempts to intimidate Somalia through politically sponsored instability to force Mogadishu to withdraw the case. 

“Merely three months after I had taken office, the Kenyan leadership started to directly intervene in our country’s political process by mobilising political groups in Kenya to create an atmosphere of chaos and political instability in Somalia that would ultimately lead to the withdrawal of the case from the court,” Farmaajo claimed in a televised speech. 

“After the failure of those pressure tactics, the Kenyan government resorted to direct violations of our sovereignty.”

He said the Kenyan government has spent enormous time and resources in a campaign to politically isolate Somalia by painting a distorted picture of the nation to the world.

Although Farmaajo did not elaborate, Kenya had in the past sought to have the two sides resolve the maritime dispute out of court, something Somalia refused. 

But Uhuru said the decision by the ICJ would strain the relations between the two countrieswarning that the verdict was “zero-sum” and Kenya will neither accept nor recognise it. 

Kenya’s rejection of the ICJ’s judgment would set the stage for further diplomatic tensions with Somalia amid signals that Nairobi would rather go to war to protect its borders than cede an inch. 

On Tuesday, the Hague-based United Nations’ highest court drew a new border close to the one claimed by Somalia although Kenya kept a part of the 100,000 square-kilometre (39,000 square-mile) area. 

The panel of 14 judges sitting in The Hague said Kenya had not proved that Somalia had previously agreed to its claimed border. 

Instead, they drew a new line that split the disputed area into two halves. 

The court directed that the new maritime boundary must flow on a line of equidistance, eating away a significant chunk of waters claimed by Kenya in the previous boundary that flowed eastwards on a line of parallel latitude. 

Kenya said last week that it would not recognise the court’s judgement, alleging that the judicial process had “obvious and inherent bias”.

Its statement acknowledged that the judgement would have “profound security, political, social and economic ramifications in the region and beyond” while urging Kenyans to remain calm.

Somalia filed the ICJ case over the countries’ maritime boundary in 2014, contributing to their strained relations.

The court noted that it cannot ignore the context of the civil war that destabilised Somalia for years and limited its government functions.

It also found “no compelling evidence that Somalia has acquiesced” to Kenya’s claim of a maritime boundary along a parallel line of latitude.

But the court rejected Somalia’s pursuit of reparations after the country alleged that some of Kenya’s maritime activities had violated its sovereignty.

Somalia had also argued that Kenya had violated its sovereignty by operating in its territorial waters and demanded reparations.

The judges, however, rejected this argument.

For the past four decades, Kenya has said its maritime border runs in a line due east from where the two countries meet at the coast.

Somalia, however, argued in court that the sea frontier in the Indian Ocean should follow on in the same direction as their land border.

Source: The Star

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