Kenya-Somalia border row is turning into a land grab plot


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Where I come from, land and its ownership is still governed by metaphysical law. That means if you steal someone’s ancestral land (not some plot in Mlolongo; that’s fair game, I suppose), very bad things happen to you.

I have heard of cases where a crooked fellow goes to court with crooked lawyers before a possibly crooked judge and they get a court decision dispossessing some poor fellow. The poor fellow goes to the Njuri Ncheke — the real one, not the plethora of fake ones — for an oath ceremony called the “Striking of the Goat”. So terrifying and so terrible are the consequences of this ceremony that it hardly ever takes place.

So the fellow goes to court and gets his crooked order and the victim says: “OK, come and occupy it then.” I hear there are many corrupt fellows walking around with court papers allowing them to steal somebody’s land but they dare not set foot in the disputed property.

In the same tribe, there is also a more informal ceremony, called “Striking the Neck with the Panga”, which does not require the presence of elders but quite probably culminates with the offended party arriving at a police station with a dripping sack.

The decision by the Republic of Somalia to secretly invite a Norwegian oil firm to prospect for oil in the maritime territory they are claiming from Kenya is one of the most dangerous challenges to the survival of the Kenyan nation ever. Somalia, by redrawing a boundary that has existed since 1979, intends to take 51,000 square kilometres of the Exclusive Economic Zone and 95,000 kilometres of continental shelf from Kenya, some of it rumoured to have oil.

The fact that the Somali government is not waiting for the ruling of the International Court of Justice later in the year to start auctioning oil blocks should tell you that the cabal in Mogadishu and the profiteers it is selling the blocks to are reasonably certain of the outcome of that case, and not necessarily as a matter of justice.

The Kenyans have pointed out that the president of the ICJ is Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, a Somali national. To the African eye, this is like inviting the groom’s father to chair his prospective daughter-in-law’s dowry negotiations.

For a man who wants to avoid war, who wishes Somalia and its long-suffering people well, I fear that this is an issue that could result in bloodshed and I am writing about it so that Kenyans can begin to take it seriously. I feel that Kenya, without resorting to violence, is at a major disadvantage because nations of the world, including our neighbours, vote with their interests, not their conscience. We are alone.

The ICJ is a horrible institution to appear before, especially when you don’t believe you will get justice. There is no appeal against its decisions and they are binding. Fortunately, there is an expectation that countries report each other only after they have exhausted all other mechanisms. In my mind, Somalia seems to have woken up in 2014 and gone straight to court, ignoring a 2009 deal. The Mogadishu cabal would only have done that if it was certain to get its way.

If there was a guarantee that ceding this supposedly oil-rich ocean to Somalia would bring peace and prosperity to the ordinary man and woman in that country, innocent people who have been brutalised by militants and warlords to the extent of going without even the basic polio vaccine, then maybe we could say we will go to church, pray and consider.

But this looks like a massive land grab by a segment of ruthless oligarchs, backed by equally ruthless Western oil interests, who find it a lot easier to manipulate a corrupt elite in a country at war.

As it is, if a redrawing of borders with Somalia happens, then Kenya could also demand to redraw the maritime boundary with Tanzania, with a knock-on effect down the coast. Kenya, I fear, will not cede that territory — and it shouldn’t.

But a lot is at stake. Kenyans take peace for granted. They have tasted — and want more — prosperity, stability and good standards of living. Their counterparts in Somalia have a lot less to lose; they have lived without stability for 30 years. Whereas they desire a better life, war does not hold the same horrors as it does for Kenyans.

Everything must be done to make sure that this matter is resolved peacefully. And the only way to ensure that outcome is not to leave matters to a court whose jurisdiction Kenya has already rejected: It is for Somalia to withdraw its case and go to the negotiating table within the various frameworks available in the region, may it be Igad or the African Union.

Somalia claims Kenyan (and Ethiopian and God knows whose else) territory in its dream of a Greater Somalia. The maritime boundary is merely the latest, nor will it be the last. Somalia is like a land owner whose shamba is fallow, overgrown with bushes and unused but is busy encroaching on his neighbours’.

A permanent, negotiated and peaceful solution is a dire and urgent necessity. However, Kenya can’t win that peace by giving its territory to a neighbour who will neither be satisfied nor grateful. In any case, this is not a question of Somalia’s territorial integrity but a land grab.

If only the metaphysical land mechanisms of my tribe applied to nations as well.