International Policy Digest

Tobin Jones
World News /20 Oct 2019

Maritime Dispute as a Diversionary Tactic from Internal Revolt in Somalia.

The hearing of the Kenya – Somalia maritime dispute case at the ICJ was deferred to June 2020. As this date approaches, there is mounting evidence that the fledgling regime in Mogadishu is using the dispute to divert attention from its many internal problems.

The case, which Somalia filed in 2014 and has refused to withdraw in defiance of the African Union and IGAD, will be heard starting June 2020 at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

International norms privilege the settlement of disputes through negotiations. Strangely, the government of Somalia under President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, otherwise known as Farmajo, maintains a dogmatic approach and has defied friendly advice of negotiations.

Instead, Farmajo prefers that the case be determined by the ICJ, whose president is a Somali national.

Kenya has, on the other hand, been persistent in her push for a pragmatic and amicable solution through negotiations that would lead to an out-of-court settlement.

Kenya’s position is well aligned with international mechanisms for non-combative conflict resolution. As the legal maxim goes, a good settlement is better than a good judgment.

The maritime dispute has caught the attention of various international actors. During the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 2019, both international and regional players tried to mediate between Kenya and Somalia.

The AU once again got involved through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current Chairman of the AU, who initiated talks in the sidelines between Kenya and Somalia and urged the two countries to try and reach an amicable solution.

However, as usual, an adamant Farmajo maintained his hardline stance, saying he would not withdraw the case from the ICJ.

Farmajo’s push for retributive justice is suspect and is counter-productive. It is clear that his obsession with the legal process is hinged on a belief that ICJ President Abdulqawi Yusuf will rule in favour of Somalia.

Farmajo’s strong conviction that Yusuf will rule in favour of Somalia is credible. Already, Yusuf has expressed open bias on the case.

There are reports that Yusuf is jostling to become the next Somalia president. If true, he is likely to use the maritime dispute case to shore up his Somalia nationalist credentials, although, like Farmajo, he holds dual-citizenship.

It is also noteworthy that Farmajo and Yusuf come from the same Marehan clan, which is one of the dominant clans in Somalia. In a country where clan loyalties run deep, Farmajo would be more than happy to bequeath power to a fellow clansman, making Somalia a Marehan fiefdom.

This further confirms justifications for concern over conflict of interest and credibility of the Judge’s ability to fairly adjudicate the dispute between Kenya and Somali.

Farmajo’s pre-occupation with antagonizing Kenya is also linked to his desperate attempt to prevent the complete disintegration of Somalia.

Somalia has been facing a lot of internal issues. With an unwieldy federal government, an economy largely dependent on foreign aid and remittances, seceding provinces, and Al-Shabaab terrorists literally at the gates of Mogadishu, factions within his own government have been rumored to want to revolt.

In order to maintain Somalia’s credibility in the community of nations, the maritime dispute presents him with an opportunity to showcase Somalia as a law-abiding state.

Although the different disintegrating states of Somalia such as Somaliland and Puntland have their own views on the maritime dispute, the filing of the case presents Somalia as a viable state and allows it to escape the moniker of a failed state, which it is.

By taking on an economically stronger neighbor, the case enables Somalia to divert the attention of the international community from issues Somalia is facing and at the same time casts Kenya as a bully instead of the Good Samaritan it has always been to the Somali people.

It has been apparent that Farmajo struggles to maintain a fledgling state and that is what is driving him to wag the dog. His way out has been to create upheaval, shore discord, arise a feeling of hate and agitation against a nemesis that does not exist.

This has been his way of trying to cover up for his lapses. In truth, however, it has aroused a sense of aggressive nationalism against a good neighbor although it has covered the rot and corruption in which his government is embedded.

It is not surprising that Farmajo is attempting to create a façade of a viable state. In reality, Farmajo’s government has been one that eats its own people. For instance, it took away the daily bread of fishermen by granting dozens of fishing licenses to China.

As well, while the international community has invested in the country in order for it to build its infrastructure, all that money has ended up in the pockets of a few elites close to senior Somalia leaders.

There are indications that Somalia leaders will stop at nothing in their quest to maintain power. The Somali government operatives have been known to torture and extradite Somali freedom fighters that do not belong to the ruling clan. Abdikarim Sheikh Muse was deported to Ethiopia.

More recently, reports of an ominous rapprochement between Formajo’s government and the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization have emerged. In an undated video, Farmajo is seen speaking in Somali dialect encouraging Al-Shabaab to attack Kenya. The ripple effect of this has been frustrating Kenya’s efforts in dealing with the group.

It is clear that Farmajo does not have his own country’s interest at heart, but his own.

To deflect attention from himself and to remain relevant, he has resorted to state-sponsored terrorism, violence, nepotism, clannism and promoting inter-clan rivalry which have compromised his role as a symbol of national unity for the country.

Factions within his government are reportedly interfering with and frustrating the smooth operations of the country’s federal member states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, Puntland, Somaliland and Southwest Somalia.

Alarmed by his incompetence, members of parliament have in the recent past organized for his impeachment on grounds of breach of oath of office, violation of the constitution, abuse of office and treason.

The maritime dispute should therefore be seen in this light – a personal struggle to remain relevant in the face of huge internal challenges.

To remain in power, Farmajo is willing to auction Kenya alongside his own country, although Kenya could decide to become aggressive given that it also has the machinery to do that.

An out of court settlement remains the best option to resolve the maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia. In the unlikely event that ICC rules in favor of Somalia, a crisis of monumental proportion will occur.

This crisis will most definitely involve the reconfiguration of boundaries of various countries such as Tanzania, Mozambique and all the way to South Africa and beyond.

In the worst-case scenario, a ruling in favor of Somalia will also upset the delicate balance that established post-colonial African states when the states agreed to maintain colonial boundaries in 1963.

All Kenya can do at the moment is to continue its diplomatic efforts to resolve this dispute through negotiated means.