The Hague (AFP)
Nairobi has argued that the International Court of Justice, which rules in disputes between countries, does not have jurisdiction over the case, brought by Somalia in 2014.
“The court finds that Kenya’s preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the case must be rejected,” ICJ president Ronny Abraham said.
“In the light of the foregoing, the court finds that (Kenya’s) preliminary objection to the admissibility of Somalia’s application must therefore be rejected,” Abraham told a hearing at the ICJ’s headquarters at the scenic Peace Palace in The Hague.
Mogadishu’s case against Nairobi focuses on an attempt to redraw the sea border which would affect at least three of Kenya’s 20 offshore oil blocks.
Somalia says bilateral talks have failed to resolve the spat. A final outcome will significantly impact a new source of revenue for either of the east African neighbours.
Somalia, which lies north of Kenya, wants to continue the frontier along the line of the land border, in a southeast direction.
But Kenya wants the border to head out to sea in a straight line east, along the parallel of latitude, giving it more sea territory.
The disputed triangle of water, which stretches over an area of more than 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles), is believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas in a part of Africa only recently found to be sitting on significant reserves.
A relative newcomer to the oil industry but seen as having major potential, Kenya has already awarded three oil blocks to Italian energy company EniSpA.
Thursday’s ruling means the case can now go forward at the ICJ. New hearings will be scheduled, but a decision is likely years away.
Kenyan Attorney General Githu Muigai afterwards told reporters Nairobi regretted the decision as “it was Kenya’s view that negotiation was the preferred procedure”.
He argued litigation could affect “questions of maritime enforcement and security” about the activities of the jihadist group Shabaab in the disputed area.
But Kenya “is confident of the strength of its case,” he added.
Mogadishu in turn said it was happy with the outcome.
“The government and the Somali people welcome the court’s fair and just decision,” said Ali Said Faqi, Somalia’s ambassador in the Benelux.