The diplomatic row pitting Kenya against Somalia arising from a protracted maritime territorial dispute is, to say the least, most unfortunate. The two neighbours are akin to Siamese twins, with common challenges and mutual interests. At the centre of the dispute is 62,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean, believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, for which Somalia took Kenya to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014. But before the ICJ could rule on the matter, Mogadishu reportedly put up for auction some blocks in the disputed territory.
Predictably, Kenya sent the Somali Ambassador, Mr Mohamoud Ahmed Nur, back home, while summoning its own envoy in Mogadishu, Gen (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo to Nairobi. It is encouraging that Mogadishu has moved swiftly to dispute the reports and that should go a long way in cooling the diplomatic temperatures. With the clarification from both sides, dialogue and due process at the ICJ must now be given a chance.
At a time Kenya and Somalia are confronted with the threat of Al-Shabaab terrorists, the least they can do is to cooperate for their common good. Neither can afford to sacrifice the mutual benefits of good neighbourliness at the altar of territorial integrity. The two countries have come a long way since their independence, especially after the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, which threw Somalia into a state of lawlessness. Kenya would come in handy when, after years of turmoil and international mediation, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia was formed in 2004 in Nairobi, from where it governed until June 2005.
All the while, Somalia has remained a critical market for Kenya’s exports, thus contributing to the creation of jobs for the latter’s nationals. Kenya also hosts thousands of Somalis, including generations, which have known no other home apart from Dadaab refugee camp. Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb hosts many Somalis, including a thriving business community.
Hundreds of Kenya’s peacekeeping troops in Amisom have been killed by Al-Shabaab terrorists while defending the Mogadishu regime, the most memorable being the January 15, 2016 El Adde massacre and when the terrorists took control of the Kulbiyow base on January 27, 2017. Kenya has, on numerous occasions, been the victim of terror attacks, claiming tens of innocent lives. The latest was just last month at the Dusit business complex in Nairobi. A dispute between the two countries will definitely undermine the livelihoods of thousands of innocent and harmless populations. The current row must, therefore, be quickly resolved.