Kenya-Somalia Maritime Row: The Geopolitical Dimension of Regional Economics & Security
Throughout its history, Kenya has parlayed its borders and jagged terrain into a deterrent capability and advantage. Interestingly, an ugly maritime row with its restive neighbor Somalia has reached critical mass, geopolitically, threatening diplomatic & geopolitical stability of both The Horn and East Africa regions.
Perhaps Kenya overriding geopolitical imperative is the Lamu Sea Port, the mouth of LAPSSET, Eastern Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure project, because of its significant geopolitical influence. The security intelligence lead analysts looks through the geopolitical lens and gives a brief geo-informed representation. Nairobi’s Geopolitical Influence and regional economic hegemony is not as popular in the region.
The Horn Region is rebirthed. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia have forged a new alliance, one that seeks to build a regional economic block away from East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Somalia, & Ethiopia).
Most notable seismic shift is the recent thawing of relations between Eritrea and land-locked Ethiopia. Ethiopia seeks access to Eritrea’s port of Asmara, lessening its demand for Lamu Port and LAPSSET per-se. A useless LAPSSET weakens Kenya’s geographical ‘permanence’ a significantly bad economic setback.
The oil and gas fields along Kenya’s maritime coast particularly at the maritime border with Somalia have the potential to change Kenya’s economic fortunes dramatically, propelling the East African Country to extreme economic dominance and subsequent strengthening and upgrading of the military capacity and capabilities. The Lamu Port would play a key role in shipping both crude and gas besides harbor crude from Southern Sudan.
LAPSSET involves building thousands of kilometers worth of highways, railways and oil pipelines, enabling the creation of integrated trans-African transport infrastructure between East and West Africa. The success of LAPSSET would make Kenya an ultra-powerful economy, hub, and center, and this is the axis of the controversies
Kenya is ahead of the region in the Blue Economy project. The case with Somalia disrupts Kenya’s Blue Economy plan. The world economy has turned into ocean-based resources aka Blue Economy. Countries with coasts want to secure their maritime boundary for exploring and exploiting both mineral and food resources: exploiting the Blue Economy.
You see sabotage and economic warfare on Kenya in Ethiopia’s desperation to access the Port of Asmara and makes concessions with Somalia to have the Port of Kismayu. It is the same South of the region with Tanzania building the Port of Dar es Salaam and a railway to Lake Victoria and Burundi to Rwanda and then Uganda and beyond to outmatch LAPSSET, not because LAPSSET is not viable, but its Geopolitical ramifications, particularly how it transforms and puts Kenya in an eternal Geopolitical pedestal
Maritime security is intrinsically geopolitical. Maritime zones are represented as vital for one’s security, which justiﬁes power projection activities. Geographically, economically and strategically the contested maritime area is ripe for seaborne trade at the Lamu Port. Somalia, a client state, pushing to have the Port of Kismayu as the alternative to Lamu Port for the Ethiopians and its partners.
The view is that the dispute over this potentially resource‐rich maritime area may also destabilize regional relationships, especially now that major strategic interests are at stake.
Kenya’s options are few in this protracted maritime boundary dispute since maritime boundary disputes are the barrier to use marine resources for coastal countries.
The disputes also cause significant harm to the political harmony in international relation. Legally, international law helps parties to settle their dispute if they ask for advantage of it by their agreement. Otherwise, it is unable to do anything on a particular disputed issue spontaneously; and that’s Kenya’s way out.