EDITORIAL: Why maritime case decision will need sober leadership

FILE: Kenya, which had withdrawn compulsory jurisdiction, has said it will neither recognise nor accept the decision.

EDITORIAL | Somalia has this week been celebrating the apparent victory in a case in which it sued Kenya over a maritime boundary. And depending on who you speak to, the decision of the International Court of Justice was vindictive of Somalia’s long-held claim that Kenya had intruded in Somalia’s territorial waters.

Of course, there are some in Somalia who still think the Court played a balancing act by granting some portion to Kenya, in spite of mounting evidence of how maritime boundaries have always been drawn: based on lines of equidistance.

Now that Somalia has won, how well can it use this victory while strengthening ties with the country it had battled with in court?

Barring hardliners on both sides, history shows that a decision by the ICJ should never necessarily worsen relations. Even for countries that had rejected the Court’s jurisdiction such as the US, the court’s decisions actually led to more engagement between parties as they seek to avoid future adversarial battles or to dilute the poison generated by the courts.

Kenya, which had withdrawn compulsory jurisdiction, has said it will neither recognize nor accept the decision. It is an understandable, but illegal, position, however. This is why we are beseeching the Kenyan leadership to seek common ground on how to implement the verdict.

At the end of the day, the court’s decision will remain just on paper, if both sides do not move with speed to actualize the decision. It was encouraging to see the outgoing Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo ask Nairobi to respect the decision as he had. It was also not able to see that he sees the Court’s verdict as a chance to improve on ties that had strained all through the case.

What we don’t agree on is how his speech veered off the celebratory mark to introduce interference accusations on Kenya. When those claims emerged earlier, both sides halted diplomatic relations. It took the intervention of Qatar in May 2021 to save the situation. The Court case verdict should never take us back there.

In fact, Somalia and Kenya are lucky that they may have new leadership soon after their respective elections. It is hoped that new administrations in these countries will have sober mindsets rather than polemic or nationalistic stances that seek to trample on many linkages between the two countries.

Indeed, Somalia and Kenya faced common problems even as the case proceeded. Those problems will not go away just because the case has been decided. They must address the impact of drought; they must develop trading channels. They must seek a common policy on terrorism and must address the enduring problem of refugees.

If the ICJ decision is going to punctuate future relations, we are afraid both countries will be doomed. The burden of problems facing two neighbors who never chose to be in the Horn of Africa will be too heavy for any single country.

There will be pains at losses, perceived or real, but both countries will suffer more if they take the route of adversaries than as friendly neighbors. We hope cool heads in our leaders will take us to safer grounds.


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