Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Who owns the ocean?

For years, Kenya and Somalia have argued over where their maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean runs. The International Court of Justice in The Hague could now decide who owns the sea, a decision that will only suit one. A narrow triangle off the coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean, about 100,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles), is the bone of contention.

For Kenya, however, the boundary is quite clear. It lies line parallel to the line of latitude. That gives Kenya the larger share of the maritime area and it has already sold mining licenses to international companies. But Somalia disagrees. It wants the boundary to extend to the southeast as an extension of the land border.

In 2014, Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The court represents one way of solving border conflicts in maritime areas if bilateral or regional attempts fail. Somalia wants the ICJ to define the boundary as laid down by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international sea laws. In disputed cases, a temporary boundary is drawn along a line that is at the same distance from both coastlines, if there are no physical obstacles to this. A test period is then implemented to see if this boundary is fair to both sides or if it benefits or disadvantages one or the other.

Kenya's government, however, is sticking to its preferred border demarcation. For nearly 100 years, it had considered this line to be its border.

Timothy Walter, a maritime border conflict researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa, explains, “Both countries could share the area and the mining of raw materials.. He said there is a good example in West Africa, where Nigeria and the archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe teamed up to produce oil. But for Somalia and Kenya, Walker does not see any chance. "Both countries do not want to make any compromise when it comes to their own sovereign rights. That can change, of course, but at the moment, it looks like an either-or decision."

Experts like Walker are observing a growing trend for states, especially in Africa, to take an interest in setting their maritime borders. Walker calls it the "end of the sea-blindness."
He says "Most African states lack a substantial navy or a coastguard and many conflicts have spilled over land boundaries or land borders. So historically, there has always been a focus on what is happening on land. Now, that's changing because what we can see more and more is the resources from the sea are more accessible now through better technological processes," Walker said. 

To the west of the continent, Ghana and Ivory Coast are engaged in a similar conflict about their boundary in the Atlantic Ocean. The two countries are currently awaiting a decision by the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea, an alternative to the International Court of Justice, which resolves border disputes between conflicting countries.

East African neighbors Malawi and Tanzania also have a boundary dispute, this time located in a lake. Lake Malawi borders Tanzania and holds huge amounts of oil deposits. But the colonial-era border for Tanzania ends on the bank of the lake.

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