Why Kenya and Somalia are fighting over ocean boundary

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Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre’s defiance not to postpone or stop the London meeting where contentious oil blocks were “auctioned” escalated diplomatic friction with Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Khayre met at State House, Nairobi on January 29, where sources said the PM was asked to put the auction on hold.

“Kenya, through multiple channels, has sought to find an amicable and peaceful resolution to the maritime boundary,” Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau said in a statement on Saturday.

Somalia, nevertheless, auctioned the oil blocks on February 7, the ministry said. The oil blocks are L21, L22, L23 and L24. They were sold to the UK and Norway.

Somalia’s embassy in Nairobi yesterday said no oil blocks were auctioned.

However, Daily Telegraph’s Adrian Blomfield said, “I’ve spoken to my colleague who was at the Somalia conference. He said there was no auction, but a map was shown of oil and gas blocks the Somali government intends to auction in future, some of which may be in dispute waters claimed by Kenya.”
Another source who did not want to be named said although the bid was launched, no auction was done.

“The bid process launched by Spectrum Geo in London has nothing to do with the disputed offshore territory. The blocks are all north and are very clearly identified,” he said.

The blocks included in the Spectrum Geo bid are from the matrix that covers areas that are the subject of two dimensional ( 2D) seismic surveys in 2014 and 2015 north of the disputed area.

The dispute is in the international court. “The only thing sold on February 7 was this data for the benefit of interested oil and gas companies,” the source said.
The government of Kenya has demanded that Somalia withdraws an incorrect map that it had issued at the time the supposed auction of oil and gas blocks in Kenyan territory happened.

The Somali-Norwegian Prime Minister is spearheading the auction and has had interests in Soma Gas and Oil, where he was executive director for Africa until he resigned in 2017.

Soma Gas and Oil is a private oil company that explores natural resources in Somalia. It’s registered in London. In 2013, it signed a contract in Somalia with the government to collect data on onshore and offshore oil. In exchange, the company had the right to apply for up to 12 oil blocks.

The UK, Norway, Turkey, Qatar and other players have silently been fighting to gain influence in Somalia’s oil-rich waters, which analysts warned could frustrate the country’s recovery after decades of war. A UN panel of experts in a report in July 2013 cautioned that oil could lead to conflict between rival players.

But former Natural Resources minister Abdirizak Mohamed tweeted on Saturday: “This has nothing to do with the Somali bid rounds conference in London. It is rather a pre-emptive strategy to force Somali Government to open negotiations on the maritime dispute with Kenya or influence the outcome of the case before the International Court of Justice.”

Kamau denied the move was to coerce Somalia to negotiate. “It is Somalia that took us to the ICJ. The case is still there. In any case, do you take your friend to court? It is better to discuss,” Kamau said.
“This is not a matter to be taken lightly. We have a history with Somalia. We do not want any escalation because we’re already suffering from the impact of an unstable neighbour,” ANC Musalia Mudavadi said yesterday. “Let us stand with the government of Kenya.”

In its judgement of February 2, 2017, the ICJ decided to adjudicate the maritime dispute after negotiations between Kenya and Somalia failed. Kenya wants the dispute be resolved through negotiations. Lawyers said the maritime boundary is along a parallel of latitude as was decreed in the Presidential Proclamation of 1979.

Somalia says the boundary should be at an equidistant line and that Kenya’s oil exploration activities in the disputed area are unlawful.

In February 2017, Kenya lost the first round of the case to Somalia in its bid to stop the matter from going to full hearing. The court is yet to give a hearing date.

Kenya has huge interest in Somalia with KDF troops still present in the country. Kenya helped in its formation of Jubaland after jointly capturing its capital, Kismayo from al Shabaab militants in 2012.

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