Bullish Kenya eats humble pie and pleads with International Court of Justice to postpone imminent ruling on Somalia maritime dispute

File image of Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma.
  • On Tuesday, the Kenyan government said it had formally asked the ICJ to delay the hearing of the Somalia maritime dispute, to allow the country time to recruit a new defence team.
  • On August 28, 2014, Somalia filed the boundary delimitation dispute at the International Court saying all diplomatic negotiations "have failed to resolve this disagreement," much to the chagrin of Kenya.
  • Kenya then moved to court in 2016 to challenge the admissibility of Somalia’s case on grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter but the court dismissed the objection in February 2017.

After publicly stating that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had no jurisdiction hearing its maritime dispute with Somalia, Kenya has now eaten humble pie and wants the court to give it time to ‘sort its affairs’ before the imminent ruling scheduled for September 19th 2019.

On Tuesday, the Kenyan government said it had formally asked the ICJ to delay the hearing of the Somalia maritime dispute, to allow the country time to recruit a new defence team.

“Due to exceptional circumstances, occasioned by the need to recruit a new defence team, Kenya has sought to have the matter postponed,” Attorney General Kihara Kariuki said in a statement.

On August 28, 2014, Somalia filed the boundary delimitation dispute staking a claim on an estimated 62,000 square miles oil-rich triangle in the Indian Ocean at the International Court saying all diplomatic negotiations "have failed to resolve this disagreement," much to the chagrin of Kenya.

Kenya unsuccessfully challenged International Court of Justice

Kenya then moved to court in 2016 to challenge the admissibility of Somalia’s case on grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter but the court dismissed the objection in February 2017.

Kenya’s former Attorney General Githu Muigai, who was in court during the hearing had earlier said Kenya would only agree with the court’s ruling if it goes in Kenya’s favour. The country soundly lost the case.

Since then Kenya has been involved in a futile effort to dissuade Somalia to settle the matter out of court.

Recently, Somalia rejected Nairobi’s latest attempt to have the case solved out of court—through the African Union. In the final week of August Kenyan diplomats wrote to the AU, seeking the hand of the Peace and Security Council to convince Somalia to drop the case but Somalia stuck to its guns and declined Somalia’s attendance of a meeting initially scheduled for August 22.

“Somalia pledged to comply with the court’s judgement, whatever the outcome,” Somalia’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Ahmed Isse Awad wrote to AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki on August 21, in a Note Verbale (diplomatic letter), Daily Nation reported.

What followed then has been a series of tit for tat diplomatic barbs and frustrations aimed at each other government officials as both the two countries flex their muscles.

Somalia vs Kenya’s point of view

Mogadishu’s case is premised on Article 15 of the Convention of the Law of Sea adopted in 1982. Kenya on the other hand claims the disputed area was in fact under its jurisdiction before the convention was enacted.

Somalia, which lies to the north of Kenya, wants the maritime border to continue along the line of the land border, to the southeast.

Kenya, however, wants the sea border to go in a straight line east, giving it more sea territory.

Somalia to have a say in Kenya’s new legal request

If Kenya’s request is granted which Somalia must okay, the Hague-based court may reschedule the public hearing on new dates.

Under Article 54 of the Rules of the Court, parties to a case may request the bench to alter the date fixed by the Court, “should occasion arise” to either delay the public oral sessions or stop those already going on until a later date.

The case has been scheduled for hearing next week after which the 15-bench Court chaired by Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf will deliver a verdict by September 19. The verdict is binding to both Kenya and Somalia.

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