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Why Kenya wants Indian Ocean maritime dispute with Somalia postponed again

By East Africa correspondent , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic necessitated the decision by Nairobi to write to Mogadishu and International Court of Justice over the impending Indian Ocean maritime dispute, some of the documents obtained by Garowe Online indicate, in the latest dramatic postponement request.

Both Kenya and Somalia are set to face each other at the ICJ from June 8-12 this year, for the submissions of the controversial matter, which threatens to impair their long coexisting diplomatic ties and mutual cooperation.

However, a letter sent to Somalia and copied to ICJ dated April 23 by Kenya's Foreign Affairs department, requests both parties to postpone the case due to the raging Coronavirus pandemic, which has grounded most economic activities across the globe.

The quest, Kenya argued, should be treated as "urgent" for the sake of "stability" and on a "friendly" basis until the world comes with a viable solution on how to cope with the pandemic, which is now at its pick.

"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we, therefore, ask for another postponement so that we can settle as a country and proceed with the matter when normalcy is attained in the coming months," reads the letter, which has since sparked heated debate in Mogadishu.

As of Saturday, Nairobi had recorded 830 position cases of COVID-19 according to the data obtained from the department of health. Of these cases, 301 have recovered while 50 have since died, President Uhuru Kenyatta, announced during a press conference.

To minimize the spread, Uhuru further ordered cessation of movements along the Kenya-Somalia border and that of Tanzania, which will now last for 30 days. But ferrying of cargo across the two nations shall go on, with drivers required to undergo tests, he added.

In Somalia, the infections surged to 1,377, the highest within East and Horn of Africa, with the death hitting 55, the health department announced on Saturday. The war-torn nation has also imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Mogadishu, which is the most affected.

Already, ICJ has postponed the thorny and divisive case twice before. At first, the court pushed it from September last year to November after Kenya expressed concerns over its legal team. Later, the matter was pushed to June this year to allow Nairobi to properly constitute its bench.

But during the November ruling, the court insisted that "there will be no further postponement, each party must now submit documents to allow the judges to proceed with the matter". The president of the court is a Somali national.

Despite the urgent application, Somalia has indicated plans to proceed with the case through video conference, a move that could deal a major blow to the request by authorities in Kenya. Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Guled insisted that the "matter must go on" as planned.

"The federal government of Somalia insists on the decision not to postpone even a single day the hearing of the maritime case that will be conducted as virtual," Guled said, in reference to statements that Nairobi is of the opinion that the matter is postponed.

There have been unofficial discussions between the two nations for a possible out of court settlement, but during his visit to Kenya in November 2019, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo said: "We are ready to face the court, it's the best arbiter".

At the United Nations General assembly in New York in September, Uhuru had insisted on "settling our problem with Somalia through dialogue". So vicious was that matter that Nairobi decided to go ballistic against Mogadishu by suspending direct flights and withdrawing its envoy, although the matter was temporarily resolved.

The maritime border dispute emanated in 2014 after the two nations claimed a sizeable portion of the rich mineral deposits within the ocean. For long periods, officials in Kenya refused to dialogue with Somalia during the reign of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Last week, Somalia commissioned official bidding of oil blocks worth billions, in a venture which could resuscitate the economy of the country which still struggles with ghosts of civil war and Al-Shabaab menace. The deposits on offer are, however, not among those disputed by Nairobi.


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