Kenyan diplomats in Nairobi may be rubbing their hands in glee after Somalia finally joined them in the trenches for a political fight over the Indian Ocean border dispute.
Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna said Nairobi expects Somalia’s propaganda machinery to be in full swing including use of political bodies to drive rhetoric.
“The public should therefore be prepared and is urged to treat such articles with the contempt they deserve,” Col (Rtd) Oguna said on Friday after Somalia publicised a communiqué from the Arab Parliament on the row.
“Because we anticipate that this type of propaganda will grow in the coming days, we hope that the media will not be drawn into or fall prey to malicious and baseless comments from amorphous entities and unknown sources.”
As a subject of a case before the International Court of Justice, the sea boundary dispute pitting Kenya and Somalia is due for a determination from September this year, with each side being painfully aware the final decision is binding.
This week though, Somalia pushed through a political statement from the Arab League, effectively negating its own long-running desire to stick by the ICJ ruling in spite of Nairobi’s pleas for an out-of-court settlement.
The statement, which was incidentally publicised by the Somalia Foreign Ministry, claimed Somalia’s seas were “Arab waters”, referring to a blanket name for a mass of ocean territory claimed by the 22 member states of the Arab League.
"The Arab Parliament calls on Kenya to stop its hands (sic)on Somali territorial waters, which are an integral part of the Arab waters, and rejects its false pretensions to draw up a new, unfounded map while rejecting its threats to interfere in Somalia's internal affairs," Somalia said, translating the Arabic communiqué allegedly issued by the Parliament.
The Arab Parliament, whose current speaker is Saudi, is generally a loose body whose members are picked from the Arab League states, the bloc of 22 states in Arabian gulf, north Africa and Horn of Africa.
Its temporary headquarters used to be in Damascus, but Syria’s war meant the Assembly, which lacks powers to make substantial decisions for the League such as on foreign policy matters, often holds sessions in various member countries.
Col (Rtd) Oguna inaccurately said the Parliament does not exist. But whether this was deliberate, an arrogant jibe at Somalia or an element of ignorance reflects the contempt the statement was met with
Yet it means the body whose members come from countries that have recently been on opposite sides of the war in Yemen, was effectively taking sides in a dispute already before the International Court of Justice.
“To say Somali waters are Arab waters is insulting even to Somalis themselves. But my fear is this continual maritime dispute could affect the war on piracy. Any lack of cooperation will be a boon to al-Shabaab and pirates,” observed Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, an analyst on the Horn of Africa security at Southlink Consultants.
“This statement effectively means the Arab League is fuelling the maritime dispute. Where were they in Somalia’s 30 years of conflict. Some members of the League have threatened Somalia’s very sovereignty and lack moral authority to talk about the dispute.”
Senior diplomats in Nairobi told the Sunday Nation Kenya was surprised at Somalia’s push for a statement from a body that has failed to rein in errant members. But it was a welcome gesture that means the ICJ won’t solve a political issue, they said.
“It is good that they are playing politics on an issue they said only the Court can solve,” argued a senior official.
It could also reflect on Somalia’s uncertain foreign policy, officials said.