Kenya has said it rejected the jurisdiction of the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) ahead of a ruling next week on its long-running maritime border dispute with Somalia.
The Horn of Africa neighbours have been feuding for years over a stretch of the Indian Ocean claimed by both nations and believed to hold deposits of oil and gas.
“In addition to withdrawing its participation from the current case, Kenya … also joined many other members of the United Nations in withdrawing its recognition of the court’s compulsory jurisdiction,” the foreign ministry said on Friday.
Kenya announced in March that it would boycott ICJ hearings in the case after The Hague-based tribunal refused to allow further delays. The final ruling is due to be delivered on Tuesday.
“The delivery of the judgement will be the culmination of a flawed judicial process that Kenya has had reservations with, and withdrawn from,” the foreign ministry said, accusing the court of “obvious and inherent bias” in resolving the dispute.
“As a sovereign nation, Kenya shall no longer be subjected to an international court or tribunal without its express consent.”
Cases at the ICJ, which rules on disputes between states over international treaties, can last many years.
Somalia, which lies northeast of Kenya, wants to extend its maritime frontier with Kenya along the line of the land border, in a south-easterly direction.
Kenya wants the border to head out to sea in a straight-line east – a delineation that would give it a bigger share of the ocean. The disputed triangle of water stretches over an area of more than 100,000 square km (40,000 square miles).
Nairobi maintains it has had sovereignty over the contested zone since 1979.
The two countries agreed in 2009 to settle their dispute through bilateral negotiations.
Two meetings were held in 2014, but little progress was made. A third round of negotiations that same year fell through when the Kenyan delegation failed to show up without informing their counterparts, later citing security concerns.
Somalia took the matter to court in 2014 after saying diplomatic attempts to resolve the disagreement had led nowhere.
But Nairobi – which described itself as “a beacon of peace and stability” in a volatile region – maintained on Friday that it was committed to resolving the dispute through “amicable negotiations”.
Kenya charged that the ICJ had no jurisdiction over the case and its takeover of the arbitration amounted to using pseudo-judicial processes to undermine territorial integrity.
Next week’s ICJ verdict may further trouble the often-rocky relations between the two countries.
Somalia has long bristled at what it calls Kenya’s meddling in regions over its border, while Nairobi has accused Mogadishu of using it as a scapegoat for its own political problems.
Kenya in 2019 recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu after accusing Somalia of selling off oil and gas blocks in the contested area.
It described the move as an “illegal grab” of resources, and reminded Mogadishu of Kenya’s help in the battle against al-Shabab fighters in Somalia.
Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is fighting the al-Qaeda-linked fighters perpetrating violence across Somalia.
Meanwhile, in March last year, Somalia banned the import of khat, a popular mild stimulant plant, from Kenya. Somalia said the ban was to contain the spread of coronavirus, but khat imports from Ethiopia were not stopped.
Moreover, Somalia severed ties in December 2020 after Kenya hosted the leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by Mogadishu.
However, the two countries agreed to reset relations when Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble held talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in August 2021.