Kenyan fishermen fear losing out in Somali maritime border spat

“It is not only about oil and gas”: Kenyan fishermen on Monday protested the feared loss of their livelihoods as an international court pored over a sea border dispute with Somalia.

Hearings into the seven-year-old case brought by Somalia began at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, with Kenya refusing to participate.

Meanwhile about 60 fishermen gathered thousands of miles away on the idyllic Lamu archipelago, hoping to highlight the stakes and begging the court and governments not to forget them.

“The governments are focusing on big interests of oil and gas that can bring government income. But it is not only about oil and gas,” said Adam Lali Kombo, who plies his trade off Kiwayu island.

“We appeal to both governments and the international court to consider the fishermen and their livelihoods”.

The protesting fishermen wore T-shirts and masks with the slogan “Save Lamu Waters”, which also appeared on flags flapping on their traditional dhow sailing boats.

They are worried about losing access to the bountiful waters off the northern town of Kiunga, right by the Somali border.

The maritime zone, currently under Kenyan control, is part of a vast triangle of more than 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles) with rich oil and gas potential, which Somalia says is rightfully its territory.

The ICJ is hearing a case brought by Somalia in 2014.

– Century of coexistence –

Somalia, which lies northeast of Kenya, wants to extend its maritime frontier with Kenya along the line of the land border, in a southeasterly direction.

Kenya wants the border to head out to sea in a straight line east, giving it more territory.

After seeking multiple delays, Kenya has refused to take part in the proceedings, but the court ruled they would go ahead regardless.

“It is not too late for both countries, Somali and Kenya, to explore other obvious channels” such as the African Union, other regional bodies, or local elders “who have settled such differences for centuries”, said Is’haq Abubakar, the vice president of the Save Lamu organisation.