Ethiopia has sent emissaries to Kenya and Somalia to resolve a maritime border dispute that threatens to worsen already fragile diplomatic ties in the Horn of Africa.
Officials in Nairobi and Mogadishu said Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed, who also serves as the chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, scheduled a meeting between Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohammed Farmajo for July 13.
However, the meeting was still subject to confirmation from the two heads of state with the officials leaving it at “their diaries allowing.” The revelations came amid intense speculation on Tuesday that Somalia had ceded ground on the dispute by giving room for an out-of-court settlement, a path it disowned by taking the matter to the International Court of Justice in 2014 where the matter is set for hearing on September 9.
However, President Farmajo’s office said it “unequivocally deny a change of the position of the Federal Government of Somalia on the ongoing case at ICJ.” The Somali government further dismissed the claims as “fake news”.
But several senior Somali government officials, however, said Dr. Abiy has been working behind the scenes to broker a truce. IGAD and its partners fear the maritime dispute could undermine cooperation in the fight against terrorism and sea piracy in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is also being pressured by the U.S. and the U.K. to help solve the crisis.
An earlier bid this year by Dr. Abiy failed after Mogadishu stuck to resolving the dispute in court. Yet Ethiopia which has interests in Somali ports and shares defence cooperation with Kenya has insisted the maritime dispute should be resolved amicably, to avoid stalling other areas of cooperation.
The dispute between Kenya and Somalia arose from a 2014 case in which Mogadishu sued Nairobi, seeking to redraw the sea boundary from the current eastwards extension of the land border, to a diagonal one towards the South East. Should Dr Abiy, prevail in his efforts, the case could be delayed to allow for a joint committee of the two countries to table proposals on the solution. In 2009, Kenya and Somalia technocrats drew an MoU which the Somali Parliament rejected, prompting Mogadishu to file the case at ICJ.
The ICJ ruled the MoU was a valid bilateral agreement but went ahead to admit the case for hearing on the grounds that alternative means had not been exhausted. To postpone the case, the two countries would need to write a joint letter seeking the ICJ leave for an out-of-court settlement for consideration by judges.