Just when many thought that Kenya and Somalia had resolved to pursue dialogue to end the protracted maritime territorial dispute, the row has returned and almost gone full-blown.
Miffed by what it termed the continuing violation of its territorial waters, Kenya this week upped the ante by denying Somali officials entry into the country. The delegation coming to attend a European Union-sponsored cross-border conflict management programme was blocked at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, ostensibly because the members had failed to obtain visas at the Kenyan Embassy in Mogadishu. The affected were holders of diplomatic passports. Not surprisingly, the Somali government reacted swiftly, formally writing to Kenya to protest the detention and subsequent deportation of its officials.
At the centre of the dispute is some 62,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean, believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, for which Somalia dragged Kenya to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014 after dialogue failed. Before the ICJ could rule on the matter, reports emerged that Mogadishu had put up for auction oil and gas blocks in the disputed territory.
More recently, the Somali parliament enacted a petroleum bill that, among others, will create an agency responsible for signing contracts for the extraction of fuel from the country, by November, they hope.
We hasten to reiterate that whatever the differences, dialogue remains the best option for Kenya and Somalia. The two neighbours are akin to Siamese twins sharing a critical organ and whose separation would be mutually injurious. Kenya and Somalia have come a long way since their independence, and especially since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. That spirit must be nurtured.
Kenya came in handy when after years of turmoil and international mediation, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia was formed in 2004 in Nairobi, where it operated from until June 2005. All the while, Somalia has remained a critical market for Kenyan exports, thus contributing to the creation of many jobs for the latter’s nationals.
Kenya has played a heavy price fighting Somali jihadists Al-Shabaab, with hundreds of its peacekeeping Amisom troops losing their lives defending the Mogadishu government. Kenya has, on numerous occasions, been the victim of terror attacks by the jihadists, claiming tens of innocent lives.
It is also noteworthy that a conflict between the two countries would reverberate across the entire eastern Africa region, affecting the lives of millions of innocent and harmless populations. This simmering row must be nipped in the bud.