by Bashir M. Hussein
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered - Julius Caesar.
Waa duni la kala iibsadoon nala ogaysiine. We live in a world where our resources are taken and traded by third parties without our consent - Nur Farah, an anti-imperialist Somali poet.
Kenya has been claiming oil-and-gas-rich Somali territorial waters in the Indian Ocean since the early 2000s which has escalated conflict further following Kenya’s granting of exploration concessions to companies.
According to the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre, Kenya’s traditional low-risk, non-interventionist approach to peacebuilding and peace-making, which used to be grounded in “good neighbourliness” and respect for national sovereignty, has shifted dramatically since 2011, with its unprecedented military operation in Somalia. The same report indicates that the oil factor and concessions granted by Kenya [for foreign multinationals] are major factors contributing to the escalating tension between Kenya and Somalia.
This essay examines the casus belli behind Kenya’s maritime claims at the expense of Somalia; and the strategic and economic foreign interests propelling Kenya to a collision orbit with Somalia. Particularly, the document sheds light on France’s overt and covert interests in the region and its multi-faceted and unconditional support for Kenya in the context of the Kenyan-Somali conflict. Based on the analysis of available empirical evidence, it appears that France has been supporting Kenya in its quest to initiate the diplomatic crisis by claiming Somalia’s territorial waters and invading Somalia to militarily ‘secure’ the concerned maritime area.
The essay further discusses how, with few exceptions, the Kenyan elite have failed to examine the matter in the broader global and regional contexts. In effect, the Kenyan government and prominent politicians have been riding the emerging nationalistic wave against their neighbours without considering the ongoing international arbitration of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It is argued that Kenya has fallen prey to international proxies at the expense of a good diplomatic relationship with Somalia which is in Kenya’s best interest. A lose-lose scenario.
The two neighbouring East African countries of Kenya and Somalia have been drawn into a bitter conflict arising from the opposing claims over the ownership of the huge maritime zone between the two nations. According to Journalists For Justice, in line with the provisions of the Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Somalia wants the maritime borderline to be a median line “which is formed of points at the same distance” from the respective coasts of the two countries. On the contrary, Kenya claims a border along the same longitude as the point where the land border between the two countries meet with the Indian Ocean. To complicate matters further, the concerned area, which reportedly contains at least eight oil blocks, is particularly rich in oil and gas.
Based on numerous international literature sources, it is evident that rather than genuine Kenyan (security) interests, powerful foreign strategic and economic interests have pushed Nairobi to take the fierce fight for oil and gas to Somalia. In particular, some Western countries and their partners from Gulf states have immense economic interests in the region. The volatile oil and gas prospecting industry is primus inter pares; France, Norway, UK, USA, Italy, China, Qatar and the UAE are all mentioned as stakeholders in the quest for hydrocarbon resources in East Africa. Among all the foreign interests in the Somali-Kenya sea borderland, the French stakes seem to be particularly high to the extent that the transalpine country openly supports Kenya’s claim for Somali resources.
The golden opportunity presented itself when the deadline set by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), to declare the outer limit of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, came about in May 2009. Kenya asked Somalia to negotiate and subsequently sign in Nairobi a dubious Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). At the time, Somalia was in total disarray following long-lasting state collapse and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, exacerbated by the violent conflict raging in Mogadishu. The country was not in a state to negotiate complex international agreements. According to a secret memo released by Wikileaks, the Minister who signed the MoU on behalf of Somalia was not trusted by his bosses in Mogadishu. In this context, through the treacherous terms of the said MoU, for the first time in history, Kenya had managed to snatch from the Somali representative a state of alleged “maritime dispute” between the two countries.
The nature and intensity of the dispute took a dramatic turn in 2011 when the Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) invaded Somalia under the pretext of creating a ‘buffer zone’ to defend itself from the incursions of the Somalia-based militant group, Al-Shabaab. The unilateral incursion dubbed the “Operation Linda Nchi” had no international authorisation or mandate from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) nor from the African Union (AU), let alone enjoying Mogadishu’s blessing. In fact, the then Somali President had denounced the unauthorised cross-border military operation. Along with the KDF, multiple international sources confirmed the involvement of France in the Operation Linda Nchi, including the French navy which, according to a KDF spokesman, had bombarded the Somali coast.
Al-Shabaab was eventually driven out of the Somali port city of Kismayo by allied forces of the local Raskamboni brigade militia and the KDF. However, far from preventing the infiltration of Al-Shabaab into Kenya, KDF’s reign in Jubbaland and the simultaneous repressive reprisals of the Kenyan police targeting Somali ethnic population in Kenya itself resulted in: (i) increased Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya (examples of high profile include attacks on West Gate and Garrisa University); and (ii) systematic violation of the human rights of the Somali ethnic population living on both sides of the border.
At the same time, the Kenyan military in Somalia had been found to be deeply involved in all kinds of illegal businesses including cross-border smuggling thereby siphoning off millions of dollars of ill-gotten revenue and directly contributing to Kenya’s insecurity. Factually, it has been established that the KDF generals colluded with the Al-Shabaab militia, the original declared target of the unauthorised Kenyan invasion, along various stages of the multiple chains of illegal business.
Cashing on the Vulnerabilities of the Weakened state of Somalia
The intensified Kenyan efforts in the last two decades to claim the adjacent Somali territorial waters, as well as the 2011 Kenyan invasion, took place against the backdrop of a long-lasting humanitarian, security and political crisis that has affected Somalia. In this context, the Somali government could not defend itself from the internal enemy or from the immorally predatory external actors. However, unlike its belligerent neighbour, Somalia brought the case of the sea row to the ICJ in The Hague in 2014. An act that has apparently dismayed and angered Kenya further.
It is worth mentioning that for almost four decades, after the independence of Somalia and Kenya in 1960 and 1963 respectively, Kenya has never raised such a maritime border issue. Somalia did declare its sea territory in a series of legislations starting with the Law No. 37 on the Somali Territorial Sea and Ports. At this critical point, a pertinent question would be why Kenya all of a sudden had to trigger the sea row after all those decades?
Towards the end of the 2000s, the world had been struggling with an acute global financial and energy crisis. The food and fuel prices skyrocketed with the ensuing social unrest in different regions of the world. The price of crude oil peaked in 2008 when it reached 147.5 US dollars. This coincided with an extremely violent and politically turbulent period of time in Somalia as the then resource-deprived Transitional Federal Government (TFG) battled to impose its authority and end the long-lasting civil strife and political transition period. It was in this context that the Kenyan authorities, pushed by impatient foreign oil and gas multinationals that had been eying up the rich territorial waters at the borderland between Somalia and Kenya for a long time, started engaging with Somali officials in dubious circumstances. Kenya engaged (or bribed, according to some accounts) a Somali minister to settle an inexistent maritime dispute which was unknown until that moment to both the public of the two neighbouring nations and the rest of the world.
Subsequently, in 2009, a MoU was signed in Nairobi by the concerned Somali Minister and his Kenyan counterpart. Outraged by the sheer idea of Kenya disputing the Somali territorial waters, the then Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) of Somalia almost unanimously rejected the concerned MoU. It follows that Kenyan authorities and their sponsors had triggered the sea border row in an attempt to cash in on the existing vulnerabilities of the weak Somali state, as well as the prospect of tapping into the highly profitable rich oil, gas and mineral resources beneath the targeted sea waters.
Global Wars for Natural Resources and the French Proxies in East Africa
Since the advent of colonialism, including the Scramble for Africa, the quest for natural resources has been the driving factor for a long list of criminal conquers and brutal conflicts around the world. The new scramble has been going on for quite some time.
Michael T. Klare, Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, sums up the previous few decades:
The great colonial expansion by the European powers that began in the 15th century and continued until the early 19th century was largely driven by the pursuit of resources—land, timber, gold, minerals, spices, slaves, furs, rubber, and oil, among others (…) What we call the French and Indian War, for instance, was sparked by the conflict between Great Britain and France over the control of resource-rich territories in North America, India, Africa, and Asia. Many of the skirmishes that led up to World War I, especially those arising in Africa, also had this character.
Quite paradoxically, in the 21st century, we live in a time where international law is ignored and the legitimate rights of the less powerful countries (e.g. fragile states like Iraq, Syria and Libya, etc.) are ignored. The fundamental human rights of their citizens are gravely violated with total impunity, their natural resources looted, natural environment polluted and their cultural heritage destroyed in broad daylight by leading world powers including members of the UN Security Council.
In this desperate and destructive search for grandeur, those who were supposed to promote and keep the world peace and international order seem to be increasingly involved in a fierce battle for prominence, wicked imagined world leadership and global influence. The renewed scramble for so-called “last frontiers” of the remaining natural resources is the prime target for these failed world powers.
In the 21st century, with all the technological innovations and fanfare regarding human rights, the battle for scarce resources engaged by the global powers is raging virtually at every corner of the globe. The catastrophic invasion of Irak is an example of this. In this respect, in 2006, Der Spiegel stated the following in an article on the ongoing global wars for natural resources:
We live in an age of dramatic distribution battles over resources that are becoming increasingly scarce and yet required in ever-growing amounts. It's also an age in which international politics are increasingly determined by questions of energy security […] All major powers -- the United States, Europe, Russian and up-and-comers China and India -- have now made resource security a top priority political issue. As they court the custodians and owners of the resources, trickery, bribery and bargaining have become the order of the day.
In this context, following the global financial and fuel crisis of the late 2000s, foreign oil and gas multinationals convinced Kenyan politicians to partake foreign proxies for resources in Somalia. While, as already mentioned, many other foreign companies and countries are involved in the quest for hydrocarbons in the region, the role of the French government and its multinationals stand out in the escalating Kenyan-Somali conflict.
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Chirac of France rightly obtained an immense sympathy from around the world for his refusal to jump on the Bush-Blair bandwagon. But, since then, starting from the era of the Nicolas Sarkozy presidency, France seemingly felt deprived of its perceived ‘fair share’ of the global spoils conquered by her peers with the big guns at the expense of the world peace and human rights in the fragile countries. Kenya’s leading Financial Newspaper wrote earlier this year, perhaps the French leader is also “desperate for world recognition”. If that is the case, a potential way for France’s President to recover from a similar perceived setback is to follow the footsteps of his peers who invaded Iraq on totally fabricated premises, i.e. possessing dangerous weapons of mass destruction.
France’s One-Sided Involvement in the Kenyan-Somali Conflict
As of late, France has been pushing for the acquisition of virgin natural resources in East Africa, despite fully exploiting natural resources in Western Africa. Consequently, in the last two decades, France has established a rapidly growing complex web of strategic, economic and geopolitical interests in Kenya. The French President Emmanuel Macron conducted the first-ever state visit earlier this year and signed a series of new business deals worth circa three billion dollars. Suspicious Franco-Kenyan projects aside (from Somali perspective), including a deal on dubious “coastal and air surveillance”, at its face value, the said foreign direct investment (FDI) should be fine although some French companies operating in Kenya were accused of exploitative and corrupt practices.
But more worryingly, France’s geopolitical and commercial interests are promoted in Kenya with a clear strategy to undermine Somali interests, rights and sovereignty. In fact, by examining the available empirical evidence, albeit partly, it becomes quite obvious that France’s selfish interests have not only been pushing Nairobi to claim a strategic portion of Somalia’s territorial waters, but France has also been supporting Kenya in invading Somalia’s militarily under the pretext of regional security, while the real target was and remains the Somali resources. This approach is evidenced further by the neo-imperialistic speech of Emmanuel Marcon in Nairobi in March 2019 in the company of his Kenyan counterpart in which he, to make Kenya’s President content, promised (also by speaking on behalf of the European Union from which President Kenyatta had lamented) to work with Kenya and others “to design preferred options” regarding Somalia. At incredulous eyes and ears of Somalis, this sounded as if we were back in 1884 Berlin, during the Scramble for Africa.
In sum, by analysing European geopolitical analysts’ accounts, general Somali public opinion, statements of Kenya’s top politicians and the Kenyan and international media in general, it is obvious that: (i) foreign interests have been pressuring Kenya to claim the maritime borderland with Somalia; and (ii) France openly sides with Kenya for its own strategic and economic interests.
Demystifying France’s Real Motives
Although France has no significant historical presence in East Africa, except the former Somali French Coast (Djibouti), in the last two decades France’s economic interests in Kenya have rapidly increased. In 1999, France included Kenya in its special solidarity partners. Since then Kenya has become France’s first trade partner in East Africa. By 2017, more than 70 French companies were operating in Kenya including Peugeot, Schneider Electric Air France, Danone, Total, Bollore, L’Oreal East Africa, Fairmont, Alcatel, Alstom Grid, Sanofi, Veritas, Ceva Animal Health, Thales, Michelin, Sagem and Egis group. The growing interests of the French (oil and gas) multinational total includes more than 150 petrol stations in Kenya.
Against this backdrop, and based on the available evidence, it is easy to get a sense of France’s blatant overt and covert diplomatic and military support for Kenya’s quest to invade Somalia and “secure” the “disputed” maritime zone for the sake of realising France’s economic interests and other neo-imperialistic geopolitical ambitions in the region.
First of all, French oil multinationals want to be granted and exploit the rich oil, gas and mineral resources that are lying beneath Somalia’s sea bed bordering with Kenyan territorial waters. Secondly, France’s unconditional support for Kenya’s maritime dispute and its recently found interventionist regional posture towards Somalia and the subsequent unauthorised invasion of Somalia, seem to be part of a desperate search for an apparently lost past grandeur at the global stage in a rapidly changing (quasi-lawless) world with emerging powers.
In the mind of the “nationalist” circles of the French elite, if restored, albeit through typically Machiavellian manoeuvres (i.e. by any means without worrying too much about moral and ethical implications), such a (real or imagined) past glory would enable France to (re)gain a greater influence and projection of power internationally. At the same time, it would enable Paris to distract public attention from the long-lasting domestic social upheavals, economic crisis and civil disorder as symptomised by the Mouvement des gilets jaunes or “the movement of the yellow jackets”.
Thirdly, within the context of the global battle for resources and markets for the French companies, France wants to counter China’s (and other emerging powers like India’s, Turkey’s) growing rival economic and political clout in Kenya, as well as the broader African continent, which has reportedly forced many French companies out of the market competition particularly in Kenya. Finally, France’s other new international neo-interventionist ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which hosts French military bases paid generously by Abudhabi, is also involved in this complex regional conflict by allegedly funding Kenya’s hostile campaigns against Somalia. UAE and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, along with Turkey and Qatar have also been pursuing other equally harmful proxies throughout Somalia in the last few years.
In regards to the foregoing analysis, to further prove the points made, the following are a few anecdotal pieces of evidence:
1. According to Limes, a highly reputed Italian international geopolitical magazine, prior to the unilateral Kenyan invasion of the Jubbaland State of Somalia back in 2011, the “French diplomacy has been working secretly for more than one year to enable Nairobi to expand its territorial waters at the expense of Somalia.” Before Kenya, as Limes had reported, France was always eying up the oil and gas resources in Somali waters. France has tried its luck first by supporting the creation of a Somali state called Azania led by the former Defence Minister of the TFG. Limes’ illustrates that although Azania did not take off due to the political and military inconsistencies of the concerned former Somali minister, that French venture in Jubbaland/Azania exposed the strong French interest in Southern Somalia and its Machiavellian manners to secure the said strategic resources in a very fragile and vulnerable country in the middle of civil war. The unsuccessful attempt has accelerated the subsequent proxies in the same Somali region via Kenya.
2. The former Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moses Wetangula, interviewed by Kenyan television said that the concerned maritime area hosts some of the richest tuna fishing grounds in the eastern coast of Africa as well as proven rich gas and oil reserves. Mr. Wentangula implied that foreign multinationals were uncomfortable, hence, impatient with Somalia’s prolonged dysfunctional state which hindered them from exploiting those resources. Without specifying the involved countries, the current Kenyan Foreign Minister, Ms. Monica Juma, confirmed that: (i) foreign commercial interests are driving the Kenyan-Somali conflict; and (ii) powerful foreign actors are taking advantage of Somalia’s weakness. As a matter of fact, Somalia did not start the escalating conflict, Kenya did by granting exploration concessions to foreign oil companies. At this juncture, an important question is who has been taking advantage of whom? Who has allowed themselves to play proxies on behalf of foreign multinationals?
3. Professor Macharia Munene, a Kenyan expert in international relations, also declared the Kenyan media that politically and financially powerful people in European capitals were driving the dispute although, he did not specify who these powerful entities were.
4. The French President’s speech in Nairobi in March 2019, says it all in relation to French intentions including the support of military and economic support activities in Kenya at the expense of Somali interest to the extent that Mr. Marcon publicly hands over a blank cheque to the Kenyan President to design a “preferred option” for Somalia with France’s full support. This has been agreed by the parties because the Kenyan President had complained about the more prudent approach when it comes to international interventions. Mr. Marcon should have been more mindful of the long-lasting negative consequences of the first European scramble for Africa, particularly for the Somali nation which is still suffering from the permanent damage of the erstwhile scramble for Africa. Below is the full statement of the French President:
As you [President of Kenya] mention this is the very first official visit of French President after the independence. So, I think this is a new page we are writing together. We had very good discussion with the President, and I think…if I go straight to the point I think what we are going to do is to build a new partnership for the [East Africa] region and for the bilateral relationship. We had very good discussion about different situations. Mr. President [of Kenya] told me his concerns regarding Somalia and AMISOM. And, he told me about the fact that he was not comfortable about the European Union. I think what we need now, and we all concur [on this], is [to achieve] concrete results. So, what I think we should do together is, perhaps with Kenya and Ethiopia and African Union, to design, I would say, a preferred option [for Somalia] and to convince different [inaudible] partners to work with us on open agenda.
Summa Summarum, in a world where world powers regularly communicate, if not govern, through social media, an interesting proxy indicator of France’s lacking political neutrality and one-sided diplomacy in East Africa can be observed by simply looking at the twitter account of the Somalia and Kenyan’s France Ambassador. By doing so, one struggles to find any tweet referencing Somalia. Not only at the diplomatic relationship level but also at the level of human compassion. For example, the Ambassador has been regularly tweeting her condolences to Kenyans whenever a Kenyan MP, a Kenyan Professor or other notable Kenyan passes away on their respective sick beds. On the other hand, back in Somalia, even when terrible violent attacks struck the Somali capital in which senior public officials, like the Mayor of Mogadishu, were assassinated, the Ambassador never expresses her sympathy towards the aggrieving host country. At least via her twitter account as is the case for Kenya.
Kenya’s Relentless Diplomatic Harassment and the Collective Nationalistic Fever
In early 2018, Kenya’s international legal battle to delegitimise the ICJ on the grounds of non-jurisdiction over the case of the sea row between Kenya and Somalia has been rejected by the ICJ. As the Journalists For Justice point out, similar steps (i.e. challenging the ICJ jurisdiction) is “very frequently taken by countries that are afraid to lose the case on the merits.”
Enraged by the unfavourable verdict, since then, gradually but surely, Kenya has been stepping up its relentless multi-faceted pressure on Somalia for the latter to withdraw the on-going litigation case from the ICJ arbitration. The hostile measures against Somalis to which Nairobi has resorted include, but are not limited to: repeated threat to expel hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees; severing diplomatic ties (e.g. Kenya expelled the Somali Ambassador to Kenya); mandatory extra stopover of all flights to and from Somalia midway between the two capitals (at Wajir) under the pretext of additional security clearance; incessant complaints against Somalia in major international stages starting from the AU to the UN, purposefully meddling with the internal Somali affairs and costly deliberate destruction of economic infrastructure in southern Somalia by way of air bombardments. Nonetheless, despite Kenya’s painful bites, Mogadishu has thus far largely ignored Kenya’s hostile campaign. Mindful of her current political and military condition, Somalia has adopted a much more composed and diplomatic approach, if determined in its diplomatic efforts to get justice at the international level.
Meanwhile, Kenya seems to be gripped by a haughty collective nationalistic fever with Kenyan intellectuals and mainstream media constantly spewing hostile comments inciting planned pre-emptive surprise expedition of the Kenyan navy beyond the sea border between the two neighbouring courtiers.
As for Somalia, weakened but not defeated by nearly three decades of statelessness, internal civil strife, natural disasters, local and international terrorism and highly deregulated international counter-terrorism, competing for colossal international strategic interests, the timing of the escalating aggressive conflict started by Kenya with France’s support could not come at a worse time. Yet, Somalia’s diplomatic and down-to-earth approach coupled with strong arguments to defend its rights and sovereignty over its territorial waters has proven effective throughout this debacle. Whilst, Somalis, whether in Somalia or elsewhere in the world, are following very closely the above-described ill-fated international manoeuvres.
From the foregoing analysis, it can be concluded that:
1. Pushed by foreign oil and gas multinationals, Kenyan authorities and their sponsors had triggered the sea border row in an attempt to cash in on the existing vulnerabilities of the weak Somali state and the prospect of tapping in on the highly profitable rich oil, gas and mineral resources beneath the targeted Somali sea waters.
2. Kenya’s 2011 invasion of Somalia, both by sea and land, was not (entirely) intended to counter Al-Shabaab as declared in the first place. In fact, as established by international accountability bodies, the KDF has since colluded with Alshaba in a vast racket, siphoning tens of millions of dollars of public revenue from Somalia and perfectly undermining Kenya’s own security. It is now obvious that Kenya and its foreign supporters were motivated by the desperate scramble for oil and gas resources in a time of global scarcity and exorbitant commodity prices at the international markets. The adopted Machiavellian strategy has been particularly brutal. With powerful foreign support, Kenya wanted to twist Somalia’s hand in a difficult moment to relinquish or renounce rights and sovereignty over the resources lying beneath its sea waters.
3. In this context, among all other external actors, France stands out. Based on the analysis of the specialised international geopolitical magazines, international media, and the Kenyan media, France has been loyal only to its own interests. The French government squarely and openly supported Kenya before and after the invasion of Somalia in 2011 as its oil and gas multinationals had been eying up the hydrocarbon resources beneath the Somali territorial waters adjacent to Kenyan waters, but did not have enough patience to wait for the Somali political and security crisis to be over. As member of the UNSC and G7, which comes additional international responsibility (e.g. the need to observe the international law, principles such as do no harm and non-interference of other nations’ affairs), perhaps pushed to unchartered international territory by the selfish interests of its oil multinationals and other perceived strategic interests including its quest to counter the Chinese influence in the region. France has worked both secretly and openly not only to support and equip the KDF to invade Somalia but also support Kenya’s claim of the Somali territorial waters.
4. The French tend to also (ab)use the European Union by declaring to be acting on behalf of the block while siding and publicly supporting countries in East Africa at the expense of Somalia in the ambit of a conflictual context.
5. By staging protracted hostile, diplomatic, military and commercial campaigns against neighbouring Somalia, Kenyan politicians ignored the collective interest of their own people, the importance of the long-standing friendly diplomacy and the good neighbourhood relationship with Somalia. Nor did they take into account the potential negative consequences for regional peace and stability. Clearly, Kenyan politicians chose all of that over the selfish interests of foreign multinationals and their respective home governments. The latter have dragged Kenya into an unprovoked and uncalled for conflict with its neighbour while inciting and supporting Kenya to claim Somalia’s territorial waters.
6. Some French companies operating in Kenya have been accused of corruption and scandal including the violation of the rights of the local labourers. More specifically, as experience has taught Africans elsewhere in the continent (e.g. Nigeria), the oil and gas multinationals are known to defy human rights of the local populations and their natural environment. These companies do not have Africa’s best interests at heart.
McEvoy, C. (2013). Shifting Priorities: Kenya’s Changing Approach to Peace Building and Peace Making. Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre.