Unknown to most Kenyans, Somali nationals largely view the current tension between the two nations over the maritime border as a confirmation of Kenya government’s arrogance and unquenchable thirst for their country’s resources.
This is the other side of the maritime border story and a perception that has been held for decades by Kenya’s neighbours, including politicians from the Horn of Africa nation.
Since last Saturday, when Kenyan authorities claimed Somalia had auctioned oil blocks in the disputed territory in the Indian Ocean, the social and mainstream media in Somalia have been awash with comments deriding “big brother” (Kenya) for alleged economic greed and for trying to bully Somalia into submission.
This perception was captured in their rage on social media, with Somalis in the diaspora kicking off campaigns under #SomaliaVsKenya.
Newspaper editorials too questioned Kenya’s interests in Somalia, with many lambasting the tone of the press statement by Kenyan Foreign Affairs ministry describing it as “undiplomatic” and “aggressive”.
“On Saturday, Kenya ‘recalled’ its ambassador from Somalia and ‘expelled’ Somalia’s ambassador over what it dubbed ‘urgent consultations’ over a maritime border row that is considered to have a vast reserve of oil and gas.
Kenya’s letter further stated in a brash tendency that Somalia had "illegally grabbed resources of Kenya”, stated an editorial in the Halbeeg Online news outlet, which suggested the opposite (grabbing of resources) “is actually the case”.
Politicians are similarly of the opinion that Nairobi is acting arrogantly on the case at hand.
On Wednesday, the President of regional state of Hirshabelle, Mohamed Abdi Warre, faulted Kenya for “her provocation” but praised the response by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s administration for “responding professionally and soberly”.
Noting that governments ordinarily place interests of their countries and citizens first, governance expert Prof Amukowa Anangwe concurs that Somalia’s suspicions about Kenyans working or living in the Horn of Africa nation are not misplaced.
The dispute over the maritime border, he observes, is purely about a scramble for marine resources, especially the potential for oil discovery “as well as the changing international legal regime for protecting and balancing the common interests of nations while rejecting special interests that would be in contravention of the common good among nations in the maritime areas and the enjoyment and use of oceans”.
“Of particular relevance is the current law of the sea that has embraced a wide range of issues created to regulate competing interests about commercial exploitation of mineral resources and other resources at greater depths of the sea bed,” says the Kenyan scholar, who teaches at the University of Dodoma, Tanzania.
And the perception about Kenya’s economic greed has not been helped either by subsequent United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reports that have pointed an accusing finger at Kenyan soldiers for trading in charcoal in Kismayu city in the regional state of Jubbaland.
According to the latest report released in November last year, Al-Shabaab continues to reap substantial revenues from charcoal smuggling in southern Somalia despite the presence of African Union military bases in the area.
The installations at the ports of Kismayu and Buur Gabo are maintained by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers operating under the auspices of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
The Kenyan troops have, however, repeatedly denied claims linking their force to the smuggling of charcoal in the port city.
Mogadishu-based political analyst Abdishakur Omar attributes the perceptions of Somalis on Kenyans to their perceived “big brother” attitude.
“While it is true that Kenya is far more stable economically and politically, our people are uncomfortable with our neighbours’ tendency to rub in this fact. We can still work better together without being treated as second fiddle”.
Last September, an opinion piece by Karanja Kabage, renowned lawyer-turned-politician, was widely reproduced and circulated on local social media forums.
Readers were angered by the lawyer’s suggestion that Kenya and Somalia should unite as one country under a Kenyan President and Somali Deputy President.
“If the two nations were to federate on matters defence, law and order, foreign affairs, agriculture, education, health, territorial integrity and coast guards, they will constitute a formidable force and their combined resources, both human and natural, would make this Eastern Africa Federation an attractive investment destination,” Karanja argued in the article published in the Daily Nation on September 2.
The lawyer, however, touched on a raw nerve by suggesting “this would enable us to exploit maritime resources along the combined 3,800km long coastline with incredible exclusive economic zone and territorial waters”.
“It is such openness with which Kenyan neighbours are eyeing Somalia’s resources that has over the years shaped this negative perception of Kenyans. Nonetheless, the Somali are highly appreciative of Kenya’s contribution to secure their country,” Abdishakur says.
Another political analyst, Abdi Moalim, accuses Nairobi of using the Somali refugees in Kenya as a constant card to intimidate Somalia politically.
“The maritime row has nothing to do with refugees. Kenya is internationally obligated to host refugees and asylum seekers under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol of which the country is a signatory”.
On KDF’s presence in Somalia, Moalim points out that many local analysts have described the exercise as promoting “KDF” rather than protecting the country, “because Al-Shabaab is still a threat to Kenyan national security”.
In other words, some locals view KDF’s presence as an opportunity for promoting the country’s military profile and neither protecting Somali nationals nor enhancing security locally.
This perception, observes Anangwe, is particularly unfortunate considering that many Kenyan soldiers in Somalia have died in the line of duty and many more attacked and killed back home in bomb attacks carried out by the Somali-based militia, since Kenyan troops crossed over to Somalia in 2011.
The ex-Cabinet minister calls for a quick resolution of the current impasse.
Noting that Somalia prefers the intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and that Kenya has been pursuing relentlessly a negotiated settlement in the spirit of good neighbourliness, Anangwe blames Kenya for the failure of earlier efforts to negotiate with Somalia “when their delegation failed to turn up in the last meeting that had been agreed and scheduled, which infuriated Somalia, prompting it to go to ICJ”.
“Frankly, this matter may be beyond negotiation, in the short run, unless Somalia is persuaded to reconsider its recourse to the ICJ.
"That failing, perhaps, Kenya should brace itself to slug it out with Somalia at the ICJ. Although it is difficult to predict how the outcome will be at the court, Kenya stands to win the case by presenting a different argument from that of Somalia which is pursuing the provisions of Article 15 of the 1982 Convention of the Law of the Sea,” Anangwe says.
The law in question stipulates that where the coasts of two states are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two states is entitled, failing an agreement between them to the contrary to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line, every point of which is equidistant from the nearest point on the baselines from the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two states is to be measured.
But if Somalia wins the case at the court, it implies that Kenya will be left with a small triangle of marine belt that is without free access to the high seas.
In other words, warns the governance expert, Kenya may become "landlocked" by default.