Kenya Risks Losing Lamu Island in Somalia Ocean Dispute

  • President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo follow proceedings during Kenya's 16th annual National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park hotel in Nairobi on May 31, 2018.
    President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo follow proceedings during Kenya's 16th annual National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park hotel in Nairobi on May 31, 2018.
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  • Kenya is likely to lose Lamu island if the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rules in favor of Somalia in the ongoing maritime border dispute.

    The loss of Lamu island, should it happen, will be a huge loss to Kenya, given that it is a source of revenue for the country, especially through tourism.

    Kenya, on March 11, sent a letter to the International Court announcing its decision to pull out of the case.

    “Kenya wishes to inform the court, through the Registrar, that it shall not be participating in the hearing in the case herein, should the same proceed from March 15, 2021, as presently scheduled,” the letter read in parts. 

    Kenya, through Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, argued that its new legal team was still familiarizing itself with the case, following the Covid-19 pandemic that caused many inconveniences.

    An aerial shot of Lamu Island
    An aerial shot of Lamu Island
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    If Somalia wins the case, residents of Lamu will lose their fishing rights. This means that it will deny them their livelihood, since fishing is their main source of income, which will, in turn, affect the government revenue.

    A member of  Lamu Beach Management Unit (BMU) Network, Somo bin Somo, raised concerns saying that the disputed boundary touches the preferred fishing ground for the fishermen in the area and also that they should have been involved in the case as it directly affects them.

    "Waters around Kiunga area next to the common border with Somalia are our preferred rich fishing grounds. It is this area that is in dispute."

    Documents and maps presented before the ICJ by Kenya show that the equidistant line suggested by Somalia digs into Kenya’s territory. 

    According to the documents, fishing is the main source of income for most coastal communities, which contributes 80 per cent of their household income.

    “If the disputed waters were awarded to Somalia, the restricted access to historic fishing grounds and increased insecurity would be the final nail in the coffin for commercial fishing, with many large boats likely to depart fearing hijackings for ransom as is the current case across the border,” reads the document.

    The suggested line by Somalia locks into Kenya’s waters, which includes the continental shelf. This could limit shipping activities in Kenya which could adversely affect the country.

    The trade and diplomatic war between Nairobi and Mogadishu began in 2014 when Somalia filed a territorial ownership case at the ICJ accusing Kenya of grabbing some parts of the Indian Ocean. 

    Kenya responded by dismissing Somalia's argument saying that if the Hague-based court rules in favor of Somalia, it could lead to social, economical, and political complications. 

    Disputed Kenya- Somalia Maritime Border
    Disputed Kenya- Somalia Maritime Border
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