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Will ICJ's judgment on the sea border dispute affect KDF stay in Somalia?

Kenyan forces have been battling against Al-Shabaab in Somalia since 2007 [File Photo].

NAIROBI, Kenya - A fresh debate is emerging following a historic ruling by the International Court of Justice [ICJ] on maritime border row between Kenya and Somalia, which saw the latter claim victory after seven years of tussle that strained relations between the two states.

There are questions on whether Kenya Defense Forces [KDF], a key security partner of Somalia, will continue staying in Somalia, following the judgment, which has provoked Nairobi amid simmering tensions between the two nations.

Already, the judgment has been condemned by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is currently the chairperson of the United Nations Security Council [UNSC], a top global body that controls matters of security in the world.

In a tough statement, Uhuru accused ICJ of overstepping its mandate, adding that the court does not have jurisdiction to make determinations on serious matters affecting the boundaries of nations. Uhuru noted that such a decision infringes the sovereignty of Kenya.

“At the outset, Kenya wishes to indicate that it rejects in totality and does not recognize the findings in the decision. The decision embodies a perpetuation of the ICJ’s jurisdictional overreach and raises a fundamental question on the respect of the sovereignty and consent of States to international judicial processes,” said Kenyatta.

“International tribunals have jurisdiction only to the extent of consent by a State.”

The Head of State added that the decision by the World Court will strain relations between Kenya and Somalia.

“This decision is, in the circumstances, a zero-sum game, which will strain the relations between the two countries. It will also reverse the social, political, and economic gains; and potentially aggravate the peace and security situation in the fragile Horn of Africa Region,” the statement further reads.

But in Somalia, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo seemed to welcome the decision, while asking Kenya to respect the outcome. He said Nairobi should "see the decision of the court as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship of the two countries".

"Since the day I was elected, we have faced political, diplomatic, security, and economic pressure by the Kenyan leadership," Farmajo said. "The verdict was a fair indication of the transparency of the International Court of Justice."

So, what's the future of KDF?

It's the future of the Kenya Defense Forces which could plunge into a chaotic future based on the matter given the possible outcome of future relations between the two countries which have been wrangling over a host of issues.

Judges unanimously ruled there was "no agreed maritime boundary" in force and drew a new border close to the one claimed by Somalia. The ICJ's judgment is final and cannot be appealed, but the court, set up after World War II to rule in disputes between UN states, has no means of enforcing its rulings.

States can however go to the UN Security Council if another country fails to obey a ruling. Nairobi says it has exercised sovereignty over the area since 1979, but it's now clear if President Uhuru Kenyatta would resort to moving to UNSC to seek an interpretation of the ruling.

The contested area is believed to contain rich gas and oil deposits, and also has important fishing rights. Nairobi has already granted exploration permits to Italian energy giant ENI but Somalia is contesting the move.

Kenya has close to 3,500 soldiers in Somalia working under African Union Mission Forces [AMISOM]. The East Africa nation moved the troops to Somalia in 2011 under Operation Linda Nchi but they would later join AMISOM due to massive expenses Kenya incurred.

Already, there is a plan to reconfigure AMISOM if not forming a joint Hybrid mission [AU-UN] that would see more troops deployed in Somalia. Somalia has opposed the hybrid mission approach, arguing that reconfiguring AMISOM would be a better idea.

But even with the situation, Kenya had already vowed to continue remaining in Somalia for a couple of years. KDF Chief General Robert Kibochi noted that "We cannot leave Somalia until the country is stable as envisaged in our mission and that of AMISOM".

Analysts argue that in the long run, the maritime border row could significantly affect the stay of KDF troops in Somalia, given that they will be conflicted with defending the country's territory and pushing for peace and stability in a "harsh neighboring state".

President Uhuru Kenyatta did not mention how the ruling could significantly affect the relationship between Kenya and Somalia on military arrangement but he conceded that the judgment could potentially ruin the already fragile relationship between the two nations.

Other underlying factors

It's not just the stay of KDF in Somalia and the war against Al-Shabaab which can be affected by the ruling. Somalia and Kenya have been in a long political conflict which saw the two countries made separate complaints at IGAD.

Somalia has persistently accused Kenya of interfering with her internal affairs especially in Jubaland state. It's in Jubaland that KDF is domiciled and the troops have often been accused by Mogadishu of engineering defiance from Jubaland leadership.

Although Kenya denies the allegations, Somalia maintains that most decisions made in Kismayo have blessings from Kenya. Jubaland President Ahmed Islam Mohamed Madobe has never been on good terms with outgoing Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.

Further, there is the question of trade between the two countries. It's just recently that Somalia banned the importation of Miraa [Khat] from Kenya, forcing Nairobi to suspend direct flights from Somalia, a matter which saw Qatar try to mediate.

The embassies of the two countries were opened recently when Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble visited Kenya to boost mutual cooperation. But the ruling could escalate issues further based on the statement by Uhuru.

"Somalis are now more amenable to dialogue since ICJ has more or less vindicated their claim. Kenyans are aggrieved but need not be. Somalis are a nation of dealmakers. What they seek is fairness," says Rashid Abdi. "Two countries can settle the dispute amicably if they stay calm, avoid escalation. "

On Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta will hold a meeting with US President Joe Biden where the implications of the judgment by ICJ may dominate. Uhuru becomes the first African Head of State to be hosted by Mr. Biden.


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