International Court of Justice grants Somalia most of a maritime area claimed by Kenya

Somalia and Kenya have been opposing each other since 2009 over the course of their maritime border in the Indian Ocean.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rendered its arbitration on October 12, 2021, granting Somalia most of a 100,000 km² maritime area claimed by Kenya. The highest court of the United Nations, headquartered in The Hague in the Netherlands, ruled that there was no “no agreed maritime boundary” and drew a new border close to that claimed by Somalia. Kenya, however, retains part of the disputed water triangle.

Beyond a question of sovereignty, it is an economic issue because the maritime area is very rich in fish and potentially rich in oil and gas. Kenya has notably granted three oil exploration permits to the Italian company ENI.

The redefinition of the border in favor of Somalia amputates the Kenyan fishing grounds around Lamu Island.

This border dispute has for years embittered relations between the two countries. In a memorandum in 2009, they agreed to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations, which were never successful.

Believing that “diplomatic negotiations (…) did not allow their disagreement to be resolved”, Somalia seized on August 28, 2014 the ICJ, the highest judicial body of the United Nations, which declared itself competent.

President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta reacted immediately after the court ruling: “The Kenyan government totally rejects and does not recognize the ICJ’s findings.“His country had recently declared that it no longer recognized the authority of the court, accusing it of partiality.

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