NAIROBI — The Somali government says it’s not ready to take any action that could threaten its relationship with its neighbor Kenya. The announcement comes amidst simmering tensions over potential offshore oil deposits and an incident where Somali government officials and diplomats were denied entry to Kenya this week.
In a leaked protest letter, the Somali government raised concerns about what it called a Kenyan decision to deny entry visas to some lawmakers and diplomats, who had planned to attend a European Union meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Kenya’s foreign affairs minister, Monica Juma, said she wasn’t aware of the incident, and said she would be surprised if anyone with a valid visa is denied entry.
Oil, gas deposits
The incident was likely related to a dispute over which country controls 100,000 square kilometers of Indian Ocean believed to hold oil and gas deposits. In February, Kenya recalled its ambassador to Somalia because of the disagreement.
Somalia filed a complaint against Kenya in the International Court of Justice in 2014, saying it had exhausted all other avenues of finding a solution to the dispute.
In an interview with VOA, Somalia’s foreign affairs minister, Ahmed Isse Awad, said the maritime dispute is in court.
“Somali government and its people’s stand on the issue is that’s a court matter and there will be no negotiation and bargaining on that issue,” he said. “We want that matter to remain like that.”
But, Awad added, Somalia does not want to be a party to any problem with “Kenyan brothers and neighbors.”
When Somalia filed its complaint, Kenya filed a preliminary objection, saying the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two countries had avenues of dispute resolution. But the ICJ in 2017 ruled it has jurisdiction on the matter and ordered the countries to submit their arguments.
Maritime law expert Wambua Musili says the route taken by Somalia to resolve the dispute deviates from traditional practices in the region.
“The practice of the states within the East African region has always been an agreement,” he said. “Tanzania agreed with Kenya — they fixed their bordering. Tanzania agreed with Mozambique —they fixed their border. Mauritius and Seychelles agreed and they fixed their borders.So the state practice has always been in this region states agree on the border rather than take the matter to the court.”
Kenya is one of five African countries with troops in Somalia fighting militant group al-Shabab. Kenya also has at least 300,000 Somali refugees.