Skip to main content
Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Four Factors Behind Kenya-Somalia Maritime Border Row

Last week, Kenyan authorities submitted data evidence to the UN on the ongoing Kenya-Somali border row. This follows an earlier suit filed by the Somali government at the Hague-based International Court of Justice concerning the maritime boundary dispute.

What started as simple matter has degenerated over time into a complex problem, finding its way into the corridors of international courts. Two neighbours with a lot in common are embroiled in a crisis they couldn't sit down and resolve. One is left to wonder why, within a short time, good friends and neighbours have turned into foes.

These strange developments have exposed deep-rooted suspicion and mistrust that have been brewing for the last few years between the Mogadishu and Nairobi government. Somalia has greatly benefited from Kenya's generosity, good neighbourliness and friendship.

The relative peace prevailing in Somalia today is due to Kenya's tireless and unrelenting efforts. Knowing very well that terrorism threat is not only a Somali problem and that a peaceful and stable Somalia is key to its stability and growth, Kenya had no option but to rally other nations to bring lasting peace. The fruits are there for all to see.

Apart from sharing a border, the two countries share the Somali ethnic group, whose language is Somali. Kenya has hosted thousands of Somali refugees for decades in Ifo and Dadaab — Africa's largest refugee camp — both in Garissa county. These refugees arrived here due to persistent violence, war, drought and famine. Some just came to seek social services absent in their home country, like education and medical care. Kenya, on the other hand, has benefited from export of miraa to Somalia by Kenyan miraa farmers.

So what might be the possible causes of this deep mistrust, despite a show of friendship and mutual respect whenever the two Presidents meet?

First, could Kenya have erred by involving itself in Jubaland State politics immediately after the liberation of Kismayu from al Shabaab? The Mogadishu government had earlier accused Kenyan authorities of meddling in the politics and supporting Gen Ahmed Islam, popularly known as Gen Madobe, who led a different faction that fought alongside KDF in the liberation of Kismayu. The Mogadishu government said they had the final say on who was going to be the Jubaland President and not "outsiders". In fact, the relationship got sour to the level that the Somali government demanded the immediate withdrawal of KDF from Kismayu and its place be taken over by a neutral force.

Secondly, the shocking revelation by the UN Monitoring for Somalia and Eritrea that Kenya's troops in Somalia are deeply involved in the illegal charcoal trade banned by the UN in 2012 may have complicated the already deteriorating relations. This report was released last year and prepared for the UN Security Council.

The Kenyan government vehemently denied by allegations. However, it did not go well with the Somali government since the report had laid it bare that the Kenyan government had hidden economic interests. Failure by the Kenyan government to work with UN authorities in investigating these allegations worsened the situation. Until now I do not know whether a comprehensive investigation has been carried out and the troops involved brought to book.

Thirdly, the earlier decision by the Jubilee government to repatriate all the Somali refugees living in Dadaab and Ifo camps and subsequently close these camps could have angered the Somali government. The government alleged that the camps harbour terrorists and are therefore used to plan and launch attacks in Kenyan towns. This was after the Mandera and Garissa University terrorist attacks.The international community and the Somali government suggested that the refugees be left to voluntarily return to their country. The UN refugee agency boss visited the country mid-this year over the matter, and it was agreed that the agency and the two governments work together on refugee relocation.

Lastly, Somalia has protested on several occasions against the ongoing construction of a boundary wall on the 860km border by the Kenyan government to act as a barrier to terrorists. The Mogadishu government has complained of not being consulted and involved in this mega project yet it is going to hurt its people. Why didn't the Kenyan government consult its neighbour so that the contentious issues are ironed out before embarking on the project? More consultation should be carried out to clear the matter, otherwise the differences may reach their peak.

Whatever the ruling on the maritime boundary dispute, the two countries will still have deep mistrust. Something has to be done. The two governments cannot just assume they are enjoying cordial and mutual relations and that things are going on smoothly. The differences have the potential of escalating into a full-blown war if not checked.

The writer works with Windle Trust Kenya, which implements education in refugee camps in Kenya on behalf of UNHCR.
Email: [email protected]

Thank you for participating in discussions on The Star, Kenya. Note that:
  • Unwarranted personal abuse and defamatory statements will be deleted.
  • Strong personal criticism is acceptable if justified by facts and arguments.
  • Deviation from points of discussion may lead to deletion of comments.
Poll of the day