The United Nations’ highest court ruled Tuesday in favor of Somalia in a years-long dispute with Kenya about their maritime border, a decision that could worsen the fragile relationship between the neighboring countries.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Somalia, not Kenya, should control most of the triangle of water in the Indian Ocean over which Kenya has maintained sovereignty since 1979. The area, measuring about 39,000 square miles, is believed to contain deposits of oil and gas and has been a source of tension between the two countries for years.
A further deterioration of ties between Kenya and Somalia, which have been rocky in recent years, could have serious economic and security implications for both countries, said Meron Elias, a Horn of Africa researcher with the International Crisis Group, particularly when it comes to the fight against Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group.
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Kenya has been a major contributor of troops assisting Somalia’s government in its fight against the group, Elias noted. Al-Shabab, which is linked to the terrorist network al-Qaeda, regularly carries out attacks within Somalia and against its neighbors — including Kenya.
A power struggle between Somalia’s president and prime minister ahead of delayed elections, meanwhile, has created a vacuum that experts have warned could embolden the group.
Despite the court ruling Tuesday, Elias said Somalia will have little enforcement ability because it has no functioning navy or military. The International Court of Justice does not have enforcement mechanisms.
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