Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

Maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Map marking of these countries

Mains level: Issues in Africa

In a move that is set to further undermine stability in East Africa, Kenya has said that it will not take part in proceedings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its maritime border dispute with neighbouring Somalia.

Can you recall the terms like “Scramble for Africa”, “Paper Partition of Africa”? If yes, then you know very well the malady of the present-day Continent of Africa.

What is the news?

  • Nairobi has accused the top UN body of bias.
  • The move comes after Somalia’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Kenya in December after it accused Nairobi of meddling in its internal affairs.
  • The maritime dispute is said to form a crucial part of the diplomatic quarrel between the two countries.

The disputed area

  • The main point of disagreement between the two neighbours is the direction in which their maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean should extend.
  • According to Somalia, the sea border should be an extension of the same direction in which their land border runs as it approaches the Indian Ocean, i.e. towards the southeast.
  • Kenya, on the other hand, argues that the territorial southeast border should take a 45-degree turn as it reaches the sea, and then run in a latitudinal direction, i.e. parallel to the equator.
  • Such an arrangement would be advantageous for Kenya, whose coastline of 536 km is more than 6 times smaller than Somalia’s (3,333 km).

Why is this area important?

  • The triangular area thus created by the dispute is around 1.6 lakh sq km large and boasts of rich marine reserves.
  • It is also believed to have oil and gas deposits.
  • Both Somalia and Kenya have accused each other of auctioning off blocks from this area, Al Jazeera reported.

How have Kenya and Somalia tried to resolve the dispute?

  • After negotiations to resolve the issue bilaterally failed, Somalia in 2014 asked the ICJ to adjudicate.
  • Kenya resisted, arguing that the world court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
  • In 2009 both countries had a commitment to settle the dispute out of court.
  • However, in February 2017, the ICJ ruled that it did have the right to rule in the case, and in June 2019 said that it would begin public hearings.
  • These hearings never took place, as Kenya successfully applied to have them postponed thrice– the last one being in June 2020, when it cited difficulties due to the Covid-19.

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