1 Issue No. 50
Africa Research Notes
July, 2019
Issue No. 50 Africa Research Notes July, 2019
Knowledge is Power Africa Policy Institute
The pursuit for a non-adversarial negotiated settlement and durable solutions to the security
challenges arising from the Somali-Kenya maritime dispute, solely rests on Kenya’s soft power
tact. Undesirably, Kenya faces an existential threat of losing its access to international waters,
resources and geo-strategic advantage.
Kenya has to use its instruments of soft power to settle the maritime boundary dispute with Somalia amicably / Photo: U.S. Navy 3rd Class Derek
The clock is ticking towards the September 9-13,
2019 tipping point, when the international Court
of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands will
decide on the maritime delimitation case filed by
Somalia against Kenya on August 28, 2014.
Never before in its history has Kenya’s capacity to
harness the technologies of soft power to protect
its interests been so severely tested. In the
information age, soft power, defined the Harvard
Professor, Joseph Nye as the ability of countries
to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce (hard
power), is the handmaid of diplomacy.
Kenya’s think tanks and universities are the white
knights of soft power in the search for durable
solutions to the security challenges arising from
the Somali-Kenya maritime dispute. It is in this

2 Issue No. 50
Africa Research Notes
July, 2019
context that the Horn Institute (the International
Institute for Strategic Studies) convened over 30
experts of think tanks, universities and research
consulting firms from across Africa in Nairobi on
July 25-26, 2019.
For many, the gist of the Kenya-Somalia Maritime
dispute is the 160,579 square kilometers (62,000
square-miles) oil-rich triangle in the Indian Ocean.
But what is at stake is that Kenya faces the
existential threat of losing its access to international
waters, resources and geo-strategic advantage.
Its landlocked neighbours have to explore viable
alternative access to the Indian Ocean ports.
Kenya’s soft power blitz has to rest on six planks.
First, Nairobi has to put its house in order by
winning the hearts and minds of its domestic
constituency and carry its people along in this
decisive case. Up to this point, the threat level to
Kenya’s territorial integrity, economy and security
among its citizens is very low.
Kenyans need to know that what is at stake is
not just the vast deposits of hydrocarbons in
the Indian Ocean. The equidistant line running
South will intersect the Parallel east line marking
Kenya-Tanzania border, severely reducing Kenya’s
territorial waters, closing its access to international
routes and literally turning it into a “landlocked
country”. Ships entering Kenya may have to seek
clearance from Mogadishu or Dar-es-Salaam,
a real threat to Kenya’s territorial integrity and
sovereignty. Sadly, Kenya’s coast waters will be no
more than a large swimming pool of no strategic
Second, despite the case Kenya must continue with
its economic, security and other activities within
its territorial waters in line with the international
principle of “Effective Occupation”. Ungoverned
spaces in the territorial waters will give sway
to pirates, water-borne terrorists and other
criminals. Kenya’s newly created Coast Guard has
to move quickly and work with relevant County
Governments and local communities to support
and empower fishermen and local communities as
engines of maritime development.
Third, Kenya need to deploy its soft power to
effectively blunt residual Somali nationalism.
This is necessary to deter Somalia’s political elite
from weaponizing the case. The timing of the
ICJ September ruling is perfect for Mogadishu’s
elite to inflame public passion and whip Somali
nationalism to a fever-pitch as a strategy to win
the 2020 presidential election. Nairobi has also to
stay alert to the possibility of the weaponization of
terrorism in the conflict, giving al-Shabaab a new
lease of life as a bona fide defender of the Somali
Fourth, Kenya has to convince the world that
while it is still committed to a rule-based
international system, the International Court
represents a redundant Anglo-Saxon adversarial
court system. The American law professor and
Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution at the
University of California, Carrie Menkel-Meadow,
rightly characterized this adversarial system as
“inadequate, indeed dangerous, as a dispute
resolution system”. It cannot guarantee a decision
that will be acceptable to all parties or end the
dispute amicably. Indeed, it will complicate
regional peace in the volatile horn of Africa region.
Moreover, the Court has serious moral deficit as
an honest impartial broker. The Court’s President,
Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (2009-2027) is a Somali
citizen. His election in 2009 actually made the Court
route attractive to Somalia, which unilaterally
exited a negotiated path, jettisoned the 2009
Memorandum of Agreement on the demarcation
the Kenya-Somalia maritime border and took the
court’s adversarial route.
The success of Kenya’s soft power or quiet
diplomacy will be measured by its ability to get the

3 Issue No. 50
Africa Research Notes
July, 2019
court to either delay the case or to withdraw it all
together to give way to non-adversarial negotiated
settlement of the matter.
Fifth, Kenya has to use its instruments of soft power
to expose the role of the geopolitical interests of
the Gulf States in the dispute. The spill-over effects
of geopolitical wars pitting the Turkey-Qatar axis
against the Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates
front in the Gulf region are fanning the crisis.
Sixth, also under severe test is the capacity of
Kenya’s knowledge-based institutions and lobbies
to use soft power to produce evidence and expose
the role of the Oil Corporations and other interests
in masterminding and bankrolling the case at
the international court of justice and fanning the
Kenya-Somalia dispute.
Seventh, Kenya has to use soft power to influence
the policy of the emerging African Peace and
Security Architecture to support negotiated
solutions to maritime disputes on the continent,
and specifically the Kenya-Somalia dispute. This
demands that Kenya ride on the “2050 Africa’s
Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 AIM Strategy)”,
designed to enhance maritime viability for a
peaceful and prosperous Africa.
Finally, Nairobi has to win over the key members
of the UN Security Council–America, United
Kingdom, France, China and Russia–to the reality
that the ripple-effects of the ICJ case have the
potential of destabilizing the entire Indian Ocean
beyond Kenya-Somalia territorial waters. All
maritime boundaries in the West Indian Ocean run
parallel East. Upholding the equidistant principle
will demand that all boundaries along the East
Coast be adjusted, with the potential of opening
new conflicts.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former Government
Adviser and Currently the CEO of the Africa Policy