Somalia has launched a diplomatic offensive against Kenya in their dispute over the Indian Ocean waters prompting the Arab League to condemn Nairobi for annexing Mogadishu’s territory.
The Arab Parliament in which Somali has members claimed Kenya was drawing up an illegal map that includes taking away Somali territory.
The taking sides in the disputes could now complicate the war on piracy in which more than 30 Indian Ocean rim countries have cooperated to decimate attacks and their success
The Somali foreign ministry publicised the statement which described the waters in dispute as “Arab waters” while the Arab League warned at its meeting in Cairo against “interference by neighbouring states.”
The geopolitical approach now suggests Nairobi could encounter bigger diplomatic resistance should the matter come up for international mediation even after being placed under the International Court of Justice.
“The Arab Parliament calls on Kenya to stop its hands on Somali territorial waters, which are an integral part of the Arab waters, and rejects its false pretensions to draw up a new, unfounded map while rejecting its threats to interfere in Somalia’s internal affairs,” Somalia said in a translation of the communique from the Parliament.
Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, an analyst on Horn of Africa, accused some members of the Arab League of threatening the sovereignty of the Somali state and were now fuelling the maritime dispute.
“To say Somali waters are Arab waters is insulting even to Somali’s themselves. I think Arab League has no moral authority to talk about the maritime dispute. Where were they (the Arab League) for the past 30 years of conflict in Somalia?” Abdisamad said.
The Arab League traditionally seeks to defend the Middle East, north African and Horn of Africa countries and provides social support to member countries.
In August 2014 Somalia sued Kenya at the ICJ seeking to redraw the boundary that currently runs eastwards from the land border. It later declined Kenya’s efforts to have the matter resolved out of court.
The dispute affects about 100, 000 square kilometres of sea said to contain vast deposits of hydrocarbons, whose blocks Somalia recently tried to sell to prospectors.
Kenyan officials said they would not respond to the Arab Parliament statement saying the matter was now in court.
At a meeting with editors a week ago on June 17, Kenya foreign affairs cabinet secretary Monica Juma said the Maritime boundary dispute with Somalia was complex as was the ICJ process.
With oil blocks not the only matter at stake in the dispute the Arab League could soon find itself confronting other aspects of the falling out, including piracy in the Indian Ocean and terrorism.
“Lack of security co-operation between Somalia and Kenya will be a big boon to al Shabaab and Somali pirates which is a pain in the neck for both countries,” said Abdisamad.
The Indian Ocean rim countries have been co-operating, with the support of international partners, to contain pirates who a decade ago nearly crippled the shipping industry.
The co-operation has involved information sharing and joint combat operations but pirates, who have close financial links with al-Shabaab, continue to target vessels.
Kenya defence minister Raychelle Omamo was on Thursday elected chair of the United Nations ad-hoc organ – Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia – on tackling piracy and other marine crimes
Under a 2009 resolution, the UN Security Council authorised voluntary cooperation between states in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean in arresting pirates and trying them in local courts.
“We need to enhance information sharing as this is key for effective coordination of counter-piracy programmes,” Ms Omamo said at the CGPCS’ 22nd plenary session in Balaclava, Mauritius.
Kenya launched a Coast Guard last November hoping to enhance surveillance of vessel traffic and secure its blue economy but concerted effort is often essential to tackle piracy.
“Mogadishu and Somali can ill afford to take their eyes off the ball: al Shabaab, their common enemy, and waste their energy on a resolvable diplomatic disputes,” Abdisamad said.
On Monday the Arab League held meetings in Cairo aimed at consolidating a unified strategy to respond threats on the territories of its members.
The meeting said it reflected the Parliament’s concerns of “interference by neighbouring countries.”
This could have been in reference to not just Kenya but also Ethiopia which found itself in a diplomatic quandary last month after it published a map showing its territory included Somalia.
The map also showed Sudan, now undergoing transition throes after the military removal of Omar al-Bashir in April, as comprising war-torn South Sudan which seceded in 2011.
Early this year Kenya released maps showing the oil blocks in the disputed area that Somalia had tried to market at a conference in London.
At the peak of piracy in 2011, as many as 176 vessels were attacked in Somali waters, an important sea route for goods heading into the East African region.
At the time, 25 vessels were hijacked with undeclared amounts of ransom paid, according to figures from the European Union Naval Forces in Somali waters (EU-Navfor).
An assessment by the International Chamber of Shipping said piracy could have cost between $420 million and $3.2 billion a year in extra security costs, insurance premiums, ransom paid and delayed delivery of goods.
The Contact Group, involving all nations that have coastlines on the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, as well as the EU, UK, South Korea and the US have helped slow down the attacks.
The EU-Navfor says there were only three unsuccessful attacks on ships in the 18 months to June 2019.
Under CGPCS some 30 countries escort ships through dangerous waters and heavier penalties have been prescribed for piracy sponsors. Shipping lines also coordinate their activities and use the latest technology to detect and dodge pirates.
With the Kenya-Somali maritime dispute threatening to split the contact group along geopolitical lines, pirates and terrorists could be waiting by the wings.
By The Eastafrican