Diplomatic tiff as Somalia denies gas, oil auction report on disputed area

George Kebaso @Morarak

The Somali government has refuted claims by Kenya that it has auctioned contentious oil and gas blocks in the Indian Ocean at the centre of a maritime boundary spat between the countries.

In a statement last evening,  the Somalia authorities reassured Kenya it has not sold off any blocks in the disputed area and will not undertake unilateral activities in the disputed area before the International Court of Justice gives a verdict on the issue.

“The Government of Somalia regrets statements made by the Government of Kenya alleging that the Government of Somalia is “proffering to bid” any blocks in Kenya’s potential maritime zones to external bidders. Somalia also wishes to reassure Kenya that when the ICJ does render its judgement, Somalia will fully respect and comply therewith,” said the statement.

On Saturday evening Kenya recalled her diplomatic representative in Mogadishu, Lieutenant-General (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo and expelled Somalia ambassador to Kenya  Mohamoud Ahmed Nur  over alleged auctioning of oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territorial area that borders Somalia.

The auction allegedly took place in London, United Kingdom, last week, Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau said on Saturday.

But yesterday, Kamau denied that Kenya did not “recall” her ambassador nor “expel” Somalia’s envoy, saying the ambassador had been summoned to consult further on the issue.

“We summoned ours (ambassador) for consultations and asked that theirs departs for consultations on their side so that we can resolve this matter with credible and correct information from both sides,” he stated. He confirmed that Tumbo was in the country and the Somalia ambassador had reported back to his country.

By last evening, a flurry of activities were underway to bring the two countries to a negotiating table to avert the tense diplomatic situation from snowballing into a possible political confrontation.

Kamau confirmed that consultations had kicked off on either side of the two governments, and hoped to see some positive outcomes.  “They are having their consultations. We are also having ours, and we hope that both parties will give positive reports soon,” he told People Daily last evening.

Maritime boundary

However, he did not give a timeline for the ongoing consultations since the issue is diplomatic in nature.  “We are diplomats. We will take our time until we are satisfied that what we have on the table is agreeable to both sides,” he added in a telephone interview as experts in international relations and politicians dived into the debate.

Wajir West MP, Adan Keynan, an international relations expert warned that if the issue is not handled carefully, it may negatively impact on the gains the two countries have made on a number of issues especially those related to security.  He said an immediate solution to the unfolding situation is needed calling on the two countries to exercise restraint and allow diplomatic channels to handle the matter.

“Force will not solve anything. It will only serve to escalate the problem. We know what is pending before the International Court of Justice and normally, what Mogadishu did should have waited the conclusion of the case.

“Let nobody think that he can be able to frustrate the achievements the people of these two countries have been able to realise over time including in difficult situations, for selfish interests,” the former National Assembly Departmental Committee on Defense and Foreign Relations Chairman warned.

Keynan, however, said the relations between Kenya and Somalia date back to historical times, but noted that what brings the two countries together should be upheld first.  “Somalia greatly needs Kenya for her own interests- national security and the war against terrorism within the borders and beyond. Kenya also needs Somalia to defeat the enemy that is al Shabaab,” he said yesterday.

He also noted that Kenya holds the largest refugee camp- Dadaab with majority being Somalis, and therefore the worsening relationship is bad for both countries.

Former National Assembly Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim said the move by Kenya was hasty.

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi accused Somalia of breaching the international law by auctioning Kenya’s oil and gas blocks on the maritime boundary yet that case has not been concluded at the ICJ.

“The law on maritime boundaries is clear that a country should not go beyond 200 aeronautical miles into the sea as part of another country’s boundary. There is already an issue in the ICJ that should be respected,” he said.

He warned that the diplomatic spat between the two countries should not be treated lightly adding that past incidents where the Northern Frontier sought to secede and the events in the aftermath should serve as indicators of what awaits the two countries if the matter is not solved carefully.  “Kenya is currently suffering the impact of an unstable Somali. Therefore, let’s all stand with the government in this matter,” he urged.

Refugee camps

A University of Nairobi lecturer, agreed with the ANC leader that Kenya is more vulnerable in this situation, and cannot risk.

“Kenya cannot risk having a volatile Somalia. We have everything to lose if our neighbour is unstable. There is also a strong belief that Somalia feels threatened that by having soldiers in their land, Kenya was encroaching on their country through Kismayu. Remember the issues in the Northern Frontier where Somalia feels that that part of the country was annexed from them,” the don added.

A senator in Somalia’s Upper House, Ilyas Ali Hassan, the chairperson of the National Resource, Infrastructure and Transport Committee said his government’s move to auction the oil and gas blocks belonging to another country is a “breach of the laws of the country”.

“Kenya hosts the biggest world refugee camps whom are mainly Somalis and at the same time the biggest Somali business community are in Nairobi. The worsening relationship between Somalia and Kenya therefore is bad for both of our two nations,” he said in a statement.

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