Kenya has once again returned to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) demanding a one-year extension for the final hearing of its maritime boundary dispute with Somalia, officials said.
The UN’s highest court is expected to issue its decision on Kenya’s new request, the second in as many months, next week. Somalia swiftly rejected Nairobi’s application, saying last month’s 55-day delay should take care of Kenya’s needs to constitute a legal team.
“We insisted that we won’t accept an extension beyond the fourth of November,” Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Gulaid told his country’s national TV while standing in front of the court’s building in The Hague.
Last week, the court invited representatives from Kenya and Somalia to a meeting to hear their views on the new development before the judges make a ruling.
Kenya’s request comes barely a month after the court delayed a scheduled hearing of the case by nearly two months, from September 9 to November 4.
If the court rules in Kenya’s favour, it will offer the country the one-year window it requested.
The case has strained the already frosty relationship between Kenya and Somalia, making any attempts at an out-of-court settlement nearly impossible.
On September 24, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who chairs the African Union (AU), facilitated a meeting between the presidents of Kenya and Somalia, Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo respectively, during their visit to New York for this year’s UN General Assembly. The meeting however just agreed on the formation of a trust-building committee, without any provision for a follow-up meeting between the two leaders.
Two days later, in his address to the General Assembly, the Somali leader insisted that his country will not negotiate with Kenya over the maritime boundary.
On October 1, Kenya’s Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ababu Namwamba, met with Somalia’s Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire in Mogadishu where they discussed “bilateral issues of mutual interest to Kenya and Somalia,” according to Namwamba’s Twitter account.
“Very fruitful engagement with Hassan Ali Khaire, Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Somalia on the sidelines of the Somalia Partnership Forum in Mogadishu,” tweeted Namwamba, adding that the ties between the two countries “are steeped in a history of shared destiny. We owe it to our people to keep the ties alive.”
Namwamba also met with Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Isse Awad at the fourth Somalia Partnership Forum, where Namwamba represented Kenya.
“Kenya, ever the good neighbour and dependable brother, has always supported reconstruction of Somalia, with the first Transitional Government of Abdulahi Yusuf made and hosted in Nairobi in 2004,” he said in another tweet. It’s not clear whether Namwamba raised the maritime boundary dispute with Somali officials during his Mogadishu trip in which he also held talks with UN and Africa Union envoys for Somalia, James Swan and Francisco Madeira respectively. Together with Kenya’s Somalia Embassy, Namwamba hosted a lunch for Mogadishu-based ambassadors from the US, UK, EU, Ethiopia, Uganda and Turkey.
Kenya’s new application for delayed hearing makes the November 4 hearing uncertain. A source, however, told Sunday Standard that the court is skittish about making a decision that could disrupt its schedules or interfere with other cases before it.
In 2014, after Kenya failed to explain its no-show for scheduled talks in Mogadishu on August 24 or respond to Somalia’s proposal to reschedule the follow-up talks, the Somali government led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud concluded that “further negotiations (with Kenya) would be fruitless” and took its case to the ICJ.
Nairobi’s primary argument that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case was dismissed in 2017, paving the way for the case’s full hearing.
The sour relationship between Nairobi and Mogadishu is not however a recent thing.
Since the early 1960s, when Mogadishu supported separatist rebels in the northeastern region of Kenya, the two nations’ relationship has not been cordial. Kenya’s military invasion in 2011 further muddied the waters, sparking concerns among Somalis that Nairobi’s objective was to seize their land bordering.
Hassan Khanneje, the director of the Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Somalia’s insistence on keeping the case at the ICJ emanates from Mogadishu’s belief that the court’s verdict will favour its position.
“The fear from the Kenyan side is that if the ruling favours Somalia, there’s going to be little recourse legally,” he said, noting that Kenya may not accept the verdict if it loses the case.
One of the options for Kenya is to send its navy to the disputed area and occupy it, Khanneje said, although he believes that the two countries will eventually sit down and talk.
“Kenya and Somalia will not go to war,” Khanneje said. “What I see is (that) tensions may continue for sometime, but ultimately, the countries are going to negotiate,” he added.
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