On 12 October, the UN body, the International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, finally delivered a verdict on the long-standing issue of maritime borders between the two Horn of Africa states, Kenya and Somalia. The Court ruled in favour of Somalia, establishing that the maritime borders will follow the land borders between the two countries, with a slight adjustment in favour of Kenya, which would have been disadvantaged by this method, given the conformation of the coast at that point.

Already days before the verdict, the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs had communicated through a tweet that they would in no way, regardless of the outcome, respect the decision of the UN body, and so it was.

President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a speech commenting on the outcome, reiterating the government’s earlier statement and drawing on patriotic themes. Recounting a brief history of the country, citing his father Jomo as the leader of Kenya’s founding fathers, President Kenyatta stated that the historical mission of the country’s politicians is to defend its territorial integrity. On a pragmatic level, he said the primary objective remains to resolve the dispute through diplomacy, seeking the mediation of the African Union. However, he may decide to take the matter to the UN Security Council.

In the days following the ruling, attention has shifted to Kenya’s navy, which sails in those waters. The Nairobi government’s decision will legitimise the navy’s continued presence in that stretch of sea. The former Kenyan air force chief explained that the navy will continue to be vigilant in that stretch of sea because its withdrawal could lead to a strengthening of piracy in the area, jeopardizing the attractiveness of the ports of Lamu and Mombasa.

However, the dispute has also aroused the attention of fishermen in Lamu port. The vice-president of the ‘Save Lamu’ association, Ishaq Abubakar, spoke to the media appealing to the government not to backtrack on the verdict and to assert Kenya’s position, describing the ICJ’s decision as “like a colonialist enterprise aimed at destabilizing Kenya’s territorial integrity.” Residents of the area are very concerned as they believe that the area is a hub for fishing, tourism and therefore food for the country, going so far as to threaten the jobs of, according to their estimates, 50,000 fishing families in the area. The situation is therefore far from over.


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