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DISCUSSION: Do You Think Kenya Will Obey The ICJ Ruling On Kenya-Somalia Territorial Dispute?

kenyans reject icj ruling

The ICJ delivered its final verdict on a 4-year case involving the Somalia—Kenya maritime border dispute. These territorial disputes are common in border countries, especially in Africa. In most cases, tussle over natural resources, cultural differences, religion, and ethnic nationalism are to blame for these fights. For over a decade, Somalia and Kenya have been fighting over an equal share of natural resources—natural oil and gas that is believed to be plentiful in the disputed section of the Indian Ocean.

How it all started

kenya-somali maritime border territorial disputes
Map showing the disputed triangle between Kenya and Somali border (Photo credits: ICJ)

In 2014, Somalia filed a case where they raised concerns that there was only a single maritime boundary between Somalia and Kenya in the Indian Ocean delimiting the territorial sea. Somalia was seeking the Court’s intervention in reclaiming part of the sea.

Before Somalia intervened, Kenya knew where her border lay—parallel to the line of latitude. This made Kenya the largest shareholder of the much-contested triangle.

The following year, Kenya released her first preliminary objections, invalidating the application, to which the Court countered by rejecting the objection. What followed was a series of court hearings that lasted from 15 to 18 March 2021.

For some reason, the court proceeding of the Kenya-Somalia maritime boundary dispute was delayed. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted court proceedings and Kenya requesting for appeals. But, the ICJ made a ruling.

The ICJ’s Ruling 

Essentially, the ICJ ruled in favor of Somalia by settling that there was no agreed maritime boundary. Accordingly, Somalia got a huge chunk of the conflicted zone. For Kenya, this did not only mean losing the case but also getting less than she had bargained for. The reason for this was that Kenya didn’t maintain the boundary.

Even though she secured most of the disputed area, the ICJ declined one more petition Somalia had raised. This demand entailed a need for compensation after implying that Kenya’s maritime activities had violated her freedom.

How Both Presidents Reacted to The Ruling

Shortly after the ruling, mixed reactions sprung across the nations, especially on mainstream and social media. The Heads of nations were quick to comment. Somalia’s president said,

“The rule of law has succeeded. This victory belongs to the Somali people. I thank the World Justice Court who supported the rule of law. [Kenyans should] respect the rule of international law.”

But Kenya didn’t seem content with the court’s decision. The president, via a press release, said,

“The ruling amounted to a zero-sum game, which will strain the relations between the two countries.”

Kenyan President Hon. Kenyatta adds that “It will also reverse the social, political and economic gains; and potentially aggravate the peace and security situation in the fragile Horn of Africa Region”.

Reactions From the Citizens from Both Countries

kenyans reject icj ruling over territorial disputes
Kenyans on Lamu island in March calling for their fishing rights to be respected in the seven-year legal battle between Kenya and Somalia over the countries’ maritime demarcation in the Indian Ocean. (Photo credits: The Guardian)

Although there have been no riots whatsoever, a few peaceful protests surfaced and Kenyans and Somalis used social media to express their opinions on the outcome of the case. Using Twitter as an example, many users tweeted their opinions, standing or going against the ruling.

Angered Kenyan Netizens have been using hashtags like #SomeoneTellSomalia and #NotAnInchLess to express their discontentment with the judgment concerning the territorial disputes.

In one case, this user said,

Another tweet read,

Somali citizens expressed their views via Twitter indicating that justice had been exercised.

For Somalia’s political elites, this ruling comes as a victory since they were at the forefront of the case. Netizens in Somalia have also joined their president in celebrating the outcome of the territorial disputes. However, Somalians have largely been on the receiving end mostly since they accepted the ruling without questioning.

Impact of the Territorial Disputes on the Ties Between Kenya and Somalia

When bilateral talks that were aimed at resolving the dispute outside court failed, the diplomatic relationship between Somalia and Kenya deteriorated. For instance, Kenya banned flights to and from Somalia while Somalia banned the importation of Khat into the country.

Also, Kenya has threatened to close refugee camps such as Dadaab which host several Somali refugees in the North-Eastern part of Kenya. Similarly, Kenya has thought of withdrawing KDF soldiers, fighting the famed Al Shabaab terror group.

The shaky relations between Somalia have not been all about the territorial disputes—it was just a catalyst. A recent case happened in December 2020 when Somalia accused Kenya of “interfering in internal and political affairs”. This allegation, which was aired in a press release, led to a short-lived recess of the ambassadors to both republics.

Are The Two Countries at Peace?

In May 2021, the Qatar government restored diplomatic ties between Somalia and Kenya. Somalia, through the Ministry of Information, confirmed that they had agreed to maintain diplomatic ties as they both have respect for sovereignty and regional integrity. Tentatively, Kenya remarked she was open to dialogue and efforts to restore diplomatic ties.

Inasmuch as the ICJ’s ruling is legally binding, it does not have the mandate to enforce the ruling. If need be, the United Nations will ensure the two counties observe the ruling. Efforts are being made to reach an amicable resolution.

Apart from being neighbors, Kenya and Somalia have a lot in common. For instance, students from Somalia attend Kenyan schools. They also share some similarities in culture and ethnicity. These common grounds make the two countries technically confederates or diplomatic allies.

What Happens Now?

A territorial dispute, if not properly handled can threaten the peace and economic progress of the nations involved. While Somalia hopes that Kenya heeds the ICJ’s ruling, Kenya hasn’t shown any satisfaction yet. Experts like Kelvin Mogeni, Chair of the ICJ Kenya, opined that until the ruling is acted on or against, there is not much we can expect. In a statement to DW, Mogeni said,

“That decision remains a good decision only when it can be implemented. Implementation of international law is a question of determining how powerful that country can be to implement it, and if the other one refuses, then you have to use force”.

It is hard to tell if Kenya will obey the ruling of the ICJ. However, Somalia doesn’t seem to have the might to force Kenya into submission. In all, the government of both countries must do everything possible to avoid military confrontation. If it boils down to the use of military force, both countries are losers. Do you think Kenya will obey the ruling? Also, do you think the ruling of the ICJ is just? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below.

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