The maritime dispute between Somalia and Kenya has attracted the interests of global powers like the US, UK, France, Italy, and Norway, all of whom are keen to share in the exploitation of the resource-rich maritime blocks.
As the dispute has escalated these powers have taken different sides.
The UK, for example, has shown support for Somalia. This is for two reasons. One, UK-Kenya relations have not been the best since the election of Uhuru Kenyatta who became president while a suspect at the International Criminal Court. He faced charges for crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence. The charges have since been dropped.
Under President Kenyatta, the Kenya government has gravitated towards American, Chinese and other interests as compared to British interests. As a result, the UK has moved to consolidate its economic interests in the region through Somalia.
Two, Britain has a longer relationship with Somalia in terms of onshore and offshore oil explorations. For instance, British Petroleum (BP) had oil exploration concessions in Somalia from the 1980s until 1991 when Somalia plunged into violence after the ousting of President Siad Barre.
A decade later in 2012, as violent conflict raged on in Somalia, it emerged that Britain was involved “in a secret high-stakes dash for oil in Somalia”, with the government offering humanitarian aid and security assistance in the hope of a stake in the beleaguered country’s future energy industry.
Norway is also backing Somalia. It has been reported that the country was one of the main bidders at the Somalia Oil and Gas conference in London. This could have something to do with the fact that Somalia’s Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre is a Norwegian citizen, and that Kenya expelled Norwegian oil giant Statoil.
The US is siding with Kenya because the two countries are partners in the “war on terror”, and the fact that American companies stand to benefit from the oil and gas exploration if the disputed territory is found to be within Kenya’s maritime zone. The two countries have already signed other trade deals worth $100 million.
And France is on Kenya’s side given that Total Oil was contracted by Kenya in the disputed maritime zone [Ed.: ... and France's bid in Jubaland politics had failed.]
The ICJ ruling notwithstanding, Kenya and Somalia need to cooperate. They should focus on enhancing their historical ties, and economic and security interests for their mutual benefit. Both countries must remain vigilant against external interests that divide the continent and lay its resources bare for exploitation.
On its part, Kenya needs to demonstrate to Somalia, and other states in the region, that it views them as partners. Kenya is home to a vibrant Kenyan-Somali community, hosts a large number of Somali refugees, and an increasing population of Somali students in Kenyan universities. Somalis have also made massive business investments in Kenya. These are factors that the country can leverage to restore diplomatic relations.
Finally, Somalia needs Kenya and other African countries to attain sustainable peace and security. So it would be unwise for Somalia to abandon intra-Africa relations in the quest for resource-greedy Western allies. The destiny and future of the people of the two countries are “indissolubly interconnected”. This should be the guiding principle as Somalia and Kenya seek to resolve their maritime dispute through peaceful mechanisms.
Patrick Muthengi Maluki - Senior Lecturer, Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi
Patrick Muthengi Maluki works for the University of Nairobi. He owns shares in Diplomacy Scholars Association of Kenya organisation. He receives funding from UNDP. He is affiliated with Africa Journal of International Studies.
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