In Summary
  • What is at stake in September is that if at the fall of the hammer the Court rules in favour of Somalia, Kenya will lose over 100,000 square kilometres of its current territory.
  • Nairobi should also pay attention to the geopolitical wars in the Gulf region, which are spilling over into the Horn of Africa and fuelling the Kenya-Somalia maritime row.

An escalating maritime boundary dispute with Kenya is the newest real threat to stability and recovery in Somalia and peace in the Horn of Africa.

Tensions are rising ahead of a ruling on the row by the International Court of Justice scheduled for September 2019.

Kenya has upped the ante, accusing Villa Somalia of continued violation of its marine territory.

On May 21, 2019, it barred three senior Somali officials headed for the launch of the European Union-sponsored Cross-Border Conflict Management Programme from entering Kenya for lack of visas.

The diplomatic row is likely to deepen in the coming months.

Kenya plans to withdraw privileges given to senior Somali officials, resume stringent measures for Somali aircraft, step up engagements with Somali federal states, and tactically withdraw its forces from liberated areas in Somalia.


The Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute is a classic case of the complex dynamics of the “New Scramble for Africa”, as the Eastern Africa region becomes the newest frontier of oil production in the 21st Century.

In the 1979-2014 period, Somalia recognised the disputed maritime zone along a parallel of latitude as part of Kenya’s territory.

However, it shifted its position in 2014, triggered by reports of discoveries of massive amounts of hydrocarbon deposits and oil potential in the disputed stretch.

In August 2014, it took the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands.

Occurring at a time when Kenya’s President and Deputy President were facing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Somalia’s move was interpreted in Nairobi as a territorial grab ploy.


What is at stake in September is that if at the fall of the hammer the Court rules in favour of Somalia, Kenya will lose over 100,000 square kilometres of its current territory, which forms a triangle on its India Ocean Coast.

This fact brought the crisis to a head on February 6, 2019.

Kenya protested reports that Somalia had auctioned oil blocks in the disputed maritime territory to bidders during a conference sponsored by prominent oil multinationals in London, United Kingdom, summoning its Ambassador to Somalia and directed his Somali counterpart to return to Mogadishu.

Two reasons explain Kenya’s rejection of the International Court of Justice route.

First, the post-War international justice order is inadequate in effectively dealing with conflicts in Africa, a position popularised by two eminent Africans - former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki and Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani — in an article, "Courts Can’t End Civil Wars" (New York Times, February, 5, 2014).

The problem with this form of justice, the two argued, is that it assumes that “there would be no need for winners and losers... to live together in the aftermath of victory”.


Somalia and Kenya will continue to live together as neighbours for millenniums to come.

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