OPINION: Kenya’s decision to boycott a crucial hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on its maritime boundary dispute with Somalia is a cause for concern.

When two parties agree to take a boundary dispute to the ICJ, it is assumed that both sides will fully participate in the legal process and abide by the court’s decision.

While Mogadishu appears to be following due process, Kenya seems to have a somewhat different attitude towards the ICJ.


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Despite the court going out of its way to accommodate some of Kenya’s requests, the Nairobi administration now believes it will not get “justice” at the ICJ.

Instead, Kenya wants the whole maritime boundary issue to be removed from the ICJ and handled instead by the African Union’s (AU) dispute resolution process.

Implicit in Kenya’s boycott of proceedings is that Nairobi believes it will lose the case at the ICJ. By going to the AU, it clearly sees that it may get a better deal.

Somalia took the boundary dispute to the ICJ in 2014 after bilateral talks failed to resolve the issue.

Kenya claims that Somalia had for decades recognised an east-west maritime boundary, rather than the northwest-southeast line Mogadishu now wants.

Kenya has always seemed uncomfortable with the ICJ arrangement, so perhaps its boycott should not be a surprise.

If it loses the case, Kenya will likely ignore the ICJ’s decision and the dispute will continue to fester, heightening tensions in the already fractious Horn of Africa.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)