Kenya vows to defend its territory in oil row with Somalia

By David Herbling on 2/24/2019

NAIROBI (Bloomberg) -- Kenya vowed to “never cede an inch” of its territory in a border dispute with Somalia that has soured diplomatic relations.

Kenya recalled its ambassador last week after accusing Somalia of auctioning four oil blocks in an area off their coastlines claimed by both nations. It demanded Somalia withdraw what it called “illegal maps” presented to prospective investors at a conference in London earlier this month. Somalia denied the allegations.

“Kenya understands our historical boundaries and we believe that Somalia too understands the same,” Foreign Minister Monica Juma said Thursday in a statement handed to reporters in the capital, Nairobi. “Kenya will never cede an inch of her territory.”

The dispute is threatening to undermine relations between the nations that have forged an alliance in recent years to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants who’ve waged an insurgency in Somalia since 2006. The Islamist group, known as al-Shabaab, has carried out a series of attacks in East Africa, including one last month in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in which 21 people died.

“If this case drags on for long, it disrupts the security co-operation,” said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa project director at Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

The disputed area contains oil and gas deposits beneath waters rich in tuna and other fish, all of which have the potential to generate funds Somalia needs to rebuild its economy after decades of civil war. Kenya is seeking new revenue streams to help achieve President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ambitious plan to develop transport linkages and reduce a housing deficit in East Africa’s largest economy.
Border Discord

The border discord dates back to 2014, when Somalia’s government went to court to challenge a 2009 agreement that set their maritime border along latitudinal lines extending 450 nautical mi into the Indian Ocean. Kenya expects a hearing on the matter by year-end at the United Nations International Court of Justice, according to Juma.

The area under dispute is almost 150,000 km2 (57,915 mi2), according to a map from Kenya’s foreign ministry.

Somali officials at a conference in London presented to prospective investors maps that included the disputed area as part of its territory.

“The maps depict Somalia’s claimed maritime zone,” Somalia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement after Kenya recalled its ambassador. Somalia won’t undertake any unilateral activities until the court’s ruling, which it pledged to comply with, according to the statement.

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