Uhuru, Farmaajo in war of words after ICJ verdict

Thursday, October 14th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Farmaajo address a press conference in Nairobi on November 14, 2019. Photo/File

The maritime row between Kenya and Somalia threatened to boil over yesterday after the two nations adopted hardline positions on the matter, with President Uhuru Kenyatta vowing to protect the country’s territorial integrity to the hilt.

His Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, alias Farmaajo, on the other hand, hailed the judgement delivered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Tuesday as a victory for Somalia against “unlawful attempts” by Kenya to claim its territory.

In a statement issued from the United States, Uhuru vowed not to cede an inch of Kenya’s territory, saying as Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, he would deliver the country “intact and unencumbered” to the next president.

“I took an oath to protect the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kenya. I do not intend to abrogate my solemn oath; and, I will do everything possible as President and Commander-in-Chief, to preserve the territory of this our great republic,” he said on Tuesday evening.

The stern warning is reminiscent of his father, the then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta’s, who in July 1963 warned Somalia that Kenya would not yield an inch of its territory to the horn of Africa nation following threats by Kenyan Somalis to secede.

In another diplomatic flare-up in 1976 when then Uganda President Idi Amin attempted to redraw the boundaries of the two countries, President Jomo Kenyatta responded: “I advise them to go to hell and dream there. We shall not give away an inch, not even a quarter of an inch! Our forces are ready.”

Cripple economy

Yesterday, while celebrating the ruling which favoured Somalia’s case, Farmaajo called on Kenya to respect the supremacy of international law and “forgo their misguided and unlawful pursuits”.

He accused Kenya of waging a sustained campaign to destabilise Somalia with a view to distracting the country’s leadership from pursuing the maritime dispute at the ICJ.

He further accused Kenya of engaging in a military campaign targeting positions in Somalia’s territory including indiscriminate air and land strikes inside her borders.

“These strikes targeted the lives and properties of Somali citizens. The designation would have facilitated the labeling of Somali business community, government officials and humanitarian workers as terrorists, allow for the arbitrary confiscation and freezing of their assets and ultimately cripple the country’s economy,” he claimed.

In its judgment delivered on Tuesday, ICJ sided with Somalia on the maritime dispute between the two neighbouring states.

The ruling means Kenya risks losing several offshore oil blocks to Somalia which filed the case seven years ago.

The court proposed a new maritime boundary which divides the disputed area into two, with Mogadishu gaining a huge chunk of the territory believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves.

In his statement, Uhuru said he rejected “in totality” and did not recognise the findings in the decision, saying international tribunals had jurisdictions only to the extent of consent by a state.

He, however, said he was committed to solving the issue amicably and urged Kenyans to remain calm as the government remains fully seized of the matter.

He said the decision was, in the circumstances, a zero-sum game, which will strain relations between the two countries.

“The decision was clearly erroneous. 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,” he said.

Uhuru noted that a trend had emerged of some “supposedly international organisations” being deployed as political tools against African countries over the last decade. 

Kenya’s withdrawal

“Sadly, this misfeasance has infected the ICJ, leading it to impose jurisdiction on a dispute it had neither jurisdiction nor competence.

In addition, the court did not permit the use, let alone the exhaustion of regional dispute resolution mechanisms, despite the existence of a robust African Union legal framework on border issues and dispute settlement,” the President said.

Kenya on September 24 withdrew its recognition of the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ and will only reconsider this withdrawal when pragmatic reforms are instituted in the administration of international justice.

“Kenya, therefore, calls on the international community to create an enabling environment for the pursuit of a negotiated settlement. Kenya and Somalia are neighbouring states, with a common border, and communities with shared social, cultural and religious practices,” he said.

He said Kenya, being an independent country, possessed a determined geographical territory, and as a devoted member of the UN, the UN Security Council as well as the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, beseeched the rest of the family of nations to appreciate and respect Kenya’s inherent right to protect its territory, by all means.

Uhuru, however, said Kenya was committed to a diplomatic solution to the current impasse, saying Nairobi will resolve the matter through the institutions of the African Union such as the African Union Border Programme and its Peace and Security architecture, in addition to other bilateral arrangements.

But Somalia accused Kenya of waging a military campaign violating their sovereignty and the public interest of the Somali people.

Farmaajo cited an alleged case where innocent civilians including women and children were killed in the town of Belet-Hawo in an attack that also damaged telecommunication towers belonging to Somali telecom companies.

He appeared to allude to Kenya’s campaign at the United Nations to place Somalia under the UNSC 1267 resolution, which would have the militant group, Al Shabaab, designated as a terror group alongside others such as Al-Qaeda, Taliban and ISIL under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1276.

On August 28, 2020, the Security Council rejected Kenya’s request. The designation has been opposed by the US humanitarian agencies and diplomats, who have always insisted that the designation criminalises humanitarian aid.

Farmaajo termed the ruling “historic”, coming after the long struggle by his government against the “unlawful attempts by the Kenyan government to claim parts of our maritime territory.”

“This victory belongs to the Somali public who have always supported and stood by their government and their elected leaders.

Each time we unite for the purpose of patriotism and the defence of our nation, this kind of victory always follows,” he said.

Farmaajo further accused Kenya of meddling in Somalia’s internal affairs.

“Ever since I was elected as your president, we have faced multiple political, security, financial and diplomatic challenges, which were attempts by the Kenyan leadership to divert the Somali people and their government from their decision to deliberate this case only at the ICJ,” he said.

However, the two leaders said they were keen on maintaining friendly relationships between the countries.

“We hope that Kenya will treat the court’s decision as an opportunity to strengthen relations between the two countries and enhance cooperation between the two peoples,” Farmaajo said, adding that Mogadishu was keen on peaceful co-existence aimed at, among other things, creating a united front against terrorists.

He said that barely three months after he took office, the Kenyan leadership started to directly intervene in Somalia’s political process by allegedly mobilising groups in Kenya in order to create an atmosphere of chaos and political instability.

Kenya, he added, further resorted to direct violations of Somalia’s sovereignty, and spent enormous time and resources in a campaign to politically isolate them.

“This distorted image was damaging and insulting to our recovering nation’s reputation. But they didn’t stop there,” he said.

He also accused Kenya of launching a misinformation campaign aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the leadership of his government in Kenya’s national media as well as other international press outlets.

Somalia has also accused Kenya of disrupting the due course of the legal case at the ICJ, hoping that this issue would be resolved outside of court.

“They even undertook a malicious smearing campaign targeting regional organisations and our friends in the continent and the rest of the world to deny our sovereign right to defend our maritime borders through universally accepted legal and judicial means,” the Somalia President said.

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