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Norway clarifies role in Kenya-Somalia maritime border dispute

Thursday June 6, 2024

Kenya-Somalia maritime border dispute graphic. GRAPHIC | FILE | NMG

Norway says it never interfered with a legal challenge mounted by Somalia against Kenya over a maritime boundary dispute.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, while speaking generally of the Kenya-Norway ties, used the occasion to clarify his country’s role when Kenya and Somalia fought at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Indian Ocean border.

The case was decided in October 2021, favouring largely, Somalia’s arguments that there had been no definitive maritime boundary between the two countries.

The court ordered a re-demarcation of that boundary, drawing a line between the two sides’ contested flow of the boundary.

But Norway had been involved in the dispute, at one time leading to furious diplomatic protests from Nairobi that accused the Nordic country’s corporates of fueling the legal challenge.

“We have no bilateral problems. On the contrary, we have a lot of common concerns about the world and about the neighbourhood,” the Minister told a gathering at the University of Nairobi on Thursday, where he gave a public lecture to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations. Norway had denied any ill role at the time too.

“And I think what we will be speaking about is how we can even further strengthen our cooperation on Sudan, South Sudan, Horn of Africa, DRC, but also on the global arena like UN reform and UN financial or international financial system reform,” he said.

Norway’s role had actually begun earlier when a Norwegian diplomat Hans Wilhelm Longva drew up an MoU in 2009 as part of his country's “technical assistance” to African countries.

Somalia would later reject the MoU even though both sides had signed on it. Later, when Nairobi objected to the case at the ICJ, the court ruled that the MoU was not the product of negotiations between the two sides and hence could not be owned by Somalia, not Kenya.

Somali judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, then Vice President of the ICJ, argued Kenya and Somalia should have used their own legal teams to draft the document, instead.

“No government can afford today to put its signature to a bilateral legal instrument which it has neither carefully negotiated nor to which it has hardly contributed,” he wrote, referring to a 2009 MoU between Kenya and Somalia, which had allowed for the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Soon after the case began, however, Norwegian firms were accused of pushing Somalia to sue, as they had an interest in exploring the gas in the disputed sea area. But the gas there was later found to be unviable.

In Nairobi, Eide spoke of Kenya and Norway’s cooperation in seeking global peace and security. And he admitted double standards of his country’s Western allies were hurting global peace bids, including in the search for peace in the region.

Mr Eide described Kenya and Norway as “multilateralists and partners for peace and security in a divided world.”

He praised Kenya’s involvement in regional peace bids, arguing it was the right thing to do as peace here in a volatile neighbourhood could only attract a burden on Nairobi.

But his arguments inevitably drifted towards current active conflicts such as Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I have been very vocal in criticising many of my Western friends for not being clear on this situation…There are those who say out there, actually many key countries, ‘Look, the principles are not applied equally across the planet, so there are no principles.’

“That is a dangerous path. The right way to say is principles are not being applied equally around the planet so we have to make sure they are applied equally across the world,” he said, referring to the issues of Ukraine and Gaza, specifically.

Both have taken up the global attention, but they have seen a varied, even contradictory response from Western powers such as the US, UK and Germany. While they rallied the world against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they haven’t been as energetic to limit Israel’s excesses in Gaza.

Mr Eide said Israel failed to make a clear distinction between fighters, military and civilians and did not observe the principle of proportionality, which is basically you shall not use military force beyond what is necessary.

“We have terrible suffering in Palestine inflicted by Israeli response to what was initially a terrorist Hamas attack in Israel, but all use of military force, has to be restrained by the rules of warfare, international humanitarian law and we feel Israel is in grave violation of these principles of international humanitarian law,” he said.

He steered clear of the genocide debate, however, indicating the case filed by South Africa against Israel should clarify the issue.

And he argued rules of war should apply equally to everyone, including appropriate punishment for those who break them. The US cheered when Russian leaders were indicted by the International Criminal Court, but have reacted angrily after Israeli leaders were indicted by the same court. The US Congress went ahead to threaten sanctions on the court officials last week.

Norway, like Kenya, he argued, identifies development as based on a rules-based multilateralism. The current situation, however, has led to anarchy with people acting while knowing they could dodge penalties due to their actions.

“We have been working closely with Kenya on the peacebuilding of Sudan and South Sudan and the Horn of Africa as well as the DRC and the neighbourhood around there. All these crises need our attention. They need a consistent and principled approach,” he said.

He did admit world attention being taken by Gaza and Ukraine situations means other crises especially in Africa are being neglected.

Sudan’s war began earlier than Gaza’s, but the world also failed to mediate a ceasefire, leading to continual fighting to date. At least 18,000 people have died since then, as fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces goes on.

Norway and Kenya have had diplomatic relations for the last 60 years. This year marks a commemoration of those ties as the two sides reflect on the challenges then, such as poverty and the Cold War to today’s, such as climate change, political instability and poverty.

“These are the areas that are very crucial to mankind and require international cooperation. Sadly, this is affected by the return of geopolitical competition. We need to build the trust in multilateral institutions in that they matter in order to save lives, and economies and help countries thrive because this also makes us thrive,” he said.


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