Photograph — Wikipedia

Somalia’s decision to contract a Norwegian company to search for oil in a disputed territory has involved the European country’s government in the longstanding maritime row with Kenya.

The rift, which has threatened to strain the relationship between the two neighbouring African countries, is over the ownership of a 100,000-square kilometre block in a narrow triangle in the Indian Ocean and off the coast of the continent. The contested area has oil and gas deposits.

Reports suggest that Kenya is angered over the involvement of Norwegian oil and gas firm, DNO, in ‘redrawing’ of its map and has complained to the country’s government for the role of its organisation in the demarcation.

“The government is furious that Norway that is supposed to work for peace in Somalia is involved in the demarcation,” a Kenya official who requested anonymity was quoted as saying by the East African.

Somalia in 2014 filed a case against Kenya at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands, for unlawful operations in her marine territory.

Despite the court ruling over the contested area expected in September, Somalia allegedly exhibited seismic data of oil blocks, including those in the disputed area, for potential buyers in London on February 7, a move denounced by Kenya. Since then, the rift has manifested in different dimensions.

Last month, Nairobi barred three Somali diplomats from acquiring visas at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). In retaliation, Somalia directed all non-governmental organisations operating in Kenya to relocate to Somalia or end operations.

Nairobi also closed its border with Somalia at Kiunga in Lamu last week due to supposed security threats, but the move was believed to be in retribution against Mogadishu. The United Nations (UN) Security Council has also contacted Kenya on Somalia’s claim.

The Kenyan government believes that Somalia’s claim is driven by commercial interests and has demanded that Mogadishu withdraw the illegal maps given to investors for exploration. However, a group of maritime experts in Kenya has appealed to the government to change its aggressive approach to the dispute which threatens the region’s stability. They called for diplomacy to maintain peace in the western Indian Ocean.

The group also noted that Kenya cannot afford to lose the case at the ICJ as it would remain landlocked, forcing it to appeal to Somalia and Tanzania to allow its ships dock at the Mombasa port.

More so, Kenya should not close the door to dialogue, which will be necessary after the ICJ ruling in September, the experts said, citing the case of China’s maritime dispute with the Philippines, in which the ICJ ruled against China but the two countries opted for dialogue.

If the ruling goes against Kenya, it stands to lose 26 percent (51,105 sq km) of its Exclusive Economic Zone, and 85 percent (95,320 sq km) of the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles limit.

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