UN court favors Somalia in maritime border argument judgment

On Tuesday, the UN International Court of Justice delivered a long-awaited judgment on a yearslong argument between Kenya and Somalia over their maritime boundaries in the Indian Ocean.

In the judgment, the court ruled largely in favor of Somalia by dismissing Kenya’s argument that Somalia had already agreed to its claimed border.

Instead, the court divided the disputed triangular area — believed to be high in oil, natural gas and valuable fisheries — in half.

Related: Somaliland celebrates 30 years of self-proclaimed independence

“When countries have seen the possible of either offshore hydrocarbon or fisheries resources, [it] is then making them to become more interested in their maritime boundaries and the resources within it.”

Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, lecturer, University of Saint Andrews

“When countries have seen the possible of either offshore hydrocarbon or fisheries resources, [it] is then making them to become more interested in their maritime boundaries and the resources within it,” noted Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, a lecturer at the University of Saint Andrews who researches maritime security in Africa. 

She said maritime boundaries are becoming increasingly contentious across Africa as countries seek to grow their blue economies.

People online were quick to cast this as a major win for Somalia.

Related: US-based Somali Bantu confront deportation to a nation they’ve never known

Somalia’s Minister of Information Osman Dubbe online famous with this tweet: 

But Kenya has been clear that it would not recognize any judgment by the court.

Last week, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs long-lasting Secretary Macharia Kamau called it “the culmination of a flawed judicial course of action,” that would have a profound impact on regional security and politics.

“If you can’t talk by disputes over your boundaries, how can you then sit together and collaborate on other issues?” Okafor-Yarwood said. 

Cross-border collaboration on problems such as piracy, human trafficking and illegal fishing could be jeopardized by current maritime disputes.

There are also concerns that a continued border argument could impact the fight against terrorism in the vicinity, as Kenya has troops in Somalia fighting against al-Shabab.

Related: Somali civilians bombed by US airstrikes, targeted by al-Shabab

Okafor-Yarwood said countries with disputed maritime borders need to consider solutions beyond expensive, unending legal fights over delineation.

Joint management zones are one possibility.

“Joint management agreement, or arrangement is two countries coming together to agree to manage resources in the disputed area jointly,” Okafor-Yarwood said. 

Countries like Senegal and Guinea Bissau have used this to solve maritime disputes in the past.

While the court verdict is final, it’s not enforceable. All eyes will be on what the two countries do next.



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