Kenya on Saturday “recalled” its ambassador from Somalia and “expelled” Somalia ambassador in what it dubbed “urgent consultations” over maritime border row that is considered to have a vast reserve of oil and gas. The press statement by Kenyan Foreign Affairs Ministry that was written in a tone that many Somalis described as “undiplomatic” and “aggressive”.
The Kenyan government said it had taken that stern action because of an “egregious decision by the government of Somalia to auction off oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territorial area that borders Somalia”. The letter further stated in a brash tendency that Somalia “illegally grab resources of Kenya”.
The country is showing its naval and air force power to threaten Somalia to submission which is unacceptable. The indirectly referenced letter said Kenya would defend its territorial integrity “at any cost”.
The letter conflated maritime border racket with refugees’ affair that reveals Kenya’s diplomatic innocence.
One of the issues that spawned mixed reactions from Somalis is that Kenyan Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary, Macharia Kamau has negated his government stance in a Twitter comment saying: “For your information for the record we didn’t “recall” our ambassador nor “expel” Somalia’s. We summoned ours for consultations and asked theirs departs for consultation on their sides so that we can resolve this matter with credible and correct information on both sides.”
Cooperation on security and trade
Somalia and Kenya have been cooperating for a long time on security and trade. The two countries collaborate on fighting al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliated group, that staged an asymmetrical war in Somalia and time after time attack Kenyan security forces and shopping malls in Nairobi.
On trade, Somalia is a crucial market for Khat (stimulant leaf) from Kenya. That means Kenya could lose over 90 per cent of the market if diplomatic issues get worse. The great benefiter is Kenya reaping billions of shillings per year. Somalia also hosts over 25,000 Kenyan expatriates working in hospitality, education, health etc.
A significant population of Somalia’s diaspora are in Kenya. They have invested in many sectors of Kenya’s economy especially real estates. Somalis have contributed to Kenyan economic growth immensely: they generate revenues for the government and create jobs for youths. The country is also hosting over 400,000 Somali refugees that earned the country respect globally, and thus benefiting from the international community in terms of budgetary support.
Kenya said the diplomatic row over the maritime border would put at risk their cooperation on security and trade with Somalia.
Presently, International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is handling the two countries maritime boundaries arguments that were submitted by Somalia in 2014 after the dialogue broke down over the 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles) of water triangle with vast deposits of oil and gas.
But Kenya wants the case to be withdrawn from ICJ which Somalia objected to it. The diplomatic spat engendered by Kenya was to force Somalia to negotiate with them.
Somalia replying to the allegations that it auctioned oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territorial area said: “Somalia is not now offering, nor does it have any plans to offer, any blocks in the disputed maritime area until the ICJ decides the parties’ boundary.”
The main argument of Kenyan government was that Somalia allegedly auctioned off oil, gas and mineral blocks falling within its borders. However, A US-based seismic data processing company, Spectrum, has dismissed allegations raised by the Kenyan government against Somalia.
In a statement, Spectrum Geo Limited which inked an agreement with the Federal Government of Somalia in Mogadishu in September 2015 has thrown its weight behind Somalia dispelling the unfounded allegations by Kenya.
The company says it was assigned to acquire 2D multi-client seismic data offshore the coastline of Somalia, as the first step in the hydrocarbon exploration process.
The statement reads in part: “Spectrum acquired a total of 20,185 km. of 2D seismic data, in a grid stretching from south of the maritime border with the Federal State of Puntland, to north of the maritime border with the Republic of Kenya.
“All of this seismic data was acquired wholly within the maritime territory of the Federal Government of Somalia, and no data were acquired within the area currently the subject of the maritime delimitation case with Kenya.”
The Somali refugees in Kenya are Somalia’s Achilles heel. The maritime row has nothing to with refugees. Kenya is internationally obligated to host refugees and asylum seekers under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol of which the country is a signatory.
And by implying that it would expel over 400,000 Somali refugees that its host means transgressing international law.
Kenya sent it troops to Somalia on 16 October 2011 because its national security was imperilled by al-Shabaab the terrorist group based in Somalia. The group had carried out several cross-border attacks months before Kenya declared “operation Linda nchi” (operation to protect motherland).
Many analysts described the exercise as promoting “Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) image” rather than protecting the country because al-Shabaab is still a threat to Kenyan national security.
KDF was later integrated into African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on February 22, 2012, after the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2036. But the current Kenya diplomatic tiff with Somalia will jeopardise the KDF fight against al-Shabaab.
The cooperation of the two nation on security is a must otherwise Kenya will be a great loser here – its economy mainly tourism sector will be hard hit. It is in the best interest for Kenya to cooperate with Somalia in combating terrorism menace. Somali government influence who will participate in AMISOM and in that case the ongoing withdrawal of Burundi’s forces should be replaced by KDF if the crisis continues.
The Federal Government of Somalia responded to the letter from Kenyan foreign affairs ministry with “tact and diplomacy”. Somalia denied the allegations put forth by Kenya and regretted the “expulsions” of its envoy by the Kenyan government.
The Somali government said the map it presented during the London conference on 7 February was real and reflect Somalia’s maritime boundary: “maps in question depict Somalia’s claimed maritime zones and are entirely consistent with Somalia’s long-standing position, including its claim in the maritime delimitation case with Kenya, currently before the International Court of Justice.”
They further noted that Somalia is always ready to defend the “sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of Somali people.”
The public perception of the Somali government was an all-time high due to diplomatic squabble with Kenya. Somalis defended the sovereignty of Somalia by using social media campaigns, i.e. #SomaliaVsKenya. The opposition parties also commended the government strategic decision.
The boldness and respectful tone that press statement from Somalia’s foreign affairs ministry was written were widely welcomed and celebrated by Somalis around the globe.
The spectrum’s statement once again shows that the government of Kenya have taken hasty diplomatic decisions without verifying what Somalia has done in London.
Spectrum defending the Federal Government of Somalia succinctly wrote: “Federal Government of Somalia hosted a successful promotion of the Somalia Offshore Round at the Somalia Oil and Gas Conference. During this successful promotion, no exploration blocks were auctioned.”
Putting the diplomatic rumpus aside both countries should come together and embrace the good ties that they have enjoyed for decades.
Both countries should desist from auctioning or exploring oil and gas in the disputed maritime boundary until the ICJ gives its verdict.
They should also focus on fighting al-Shabaab; for sure al-Shabaab will benefit from the two countries diplomatic impasse. Kenya is a crucial ally and member of AMISOM, and their collaboration with the Somali government is good for their national interest.
The Federal Government need not escalate diplomatic ruckus. They should remain sober and polite as they did with the press statement.
By Abdi Moalim, a political analyst.