Kenya v Somalia: What you need to know about the diplomatic spat

Somalia’s federal government has denied Kenyan accusations that it auctioned off oil and gas exploration blocks in a disputed territory in the Indian Ocean.

Somalia reacted after Nairobi recalled its ambassador from Mogadishu for “urgent consultations” over the maritime border dispute that involves lucrative offshore oil and gas deposits.

Kenya, however, denied expelling the Somali envoy Mohamoud Ahmed Nur over the row.

What is this all about?

Kenya and Somalia have long argued over who owns a potentially lucrative, triangular stretch of 100,000 square kilometers in the Indian Ocean which is believed to contain large oil and gas deposits.

Somalia has taken the case to the International Court of Justice after negotiations over the disputed territory broke down.

Kenya says it has always exercised undisputed jurisdiction in the area since it first proclaimed its Exclusive Economic Zone in 1979.  

How have the two countries behaved?

On 16 February 2019, Kenya recalled its ambassador to Somalia for consultations after media reports said Mogadishu auctioned off oil and gas blocks in the sea rea.

Kenya also asked Somali ambassador Mohammed Muhamud Nur to return to Mogadishu for consultation with his government, but denied expelling him from Nairobi.

A day later, Somalia’s federal government denied auctioning off the exploration blocks.

In a statement, Mogadishu said it was not offering and has no plans to offer any part of the dispute area to foreign companies.

It said it was reassuring Kenya that it would not undertake unilateral activities in the disputed area until the issue is resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

What has been the reaction?

Kenyan newspapers have accused Somalia of “stabbing a worthy, helpful neighbour” in the back” by reportedly auctioning the oil and gas blocks.

Former Kenyan vice-president Musalia Mudavadi has, however, called on the international community to urgently act on the row and stop it escalating.

What impact could the diplomatic spat have?

Analysts say that there’s more at stake than oil and gas deposits between the two east African neighbours.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Somalia remains Kenya’s key Kkhat market, taking in about 50 tonnes of the mild drug daily.

Kenyan khat farmers could lose 90 per cent of the market if the diplomatic spat is not resolved.

Kenya also hosts hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, and has troops present in Somalia taking part in the UN-mandated African Union Amisom force.