Simmering border disputes in battle to control oil, gas By THE EAST AFRICAN | Sunday, August 26 2012 at 13:31
The discovery of oil and gas in the East African region could mark the beginning of long-drawn-out diplomatic dramas triggered by territorial disputes over control of resources.
Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, South Sudan and Uganda are all engaged in arguments over border, which have intensified with the discovery of minerals.
As East Africa becomes a hotspot for oil, gas and mineral exploration, the past three years have seen multimillion-dollar foreign investments in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Mozambique.
The huge flow of foreign investments into the oil and gas sector is creating unease between countries seeking control of the region’s natural resources, political and international relations analysts said.
At the centre of the latest dispute is Kenya’s decision to lease eight offshore blocks to oil exploration companies, seven of them in a contested area of the Indian Ocean amounting to 116,000 square kilometres—an area roughly the size of Malawi.
And while Kenyan officials remain confident that the area is in their territory, their Somali counterparts are alarmed.
The East African Energy Forum, a Somali lobby group linked to Transparency International, last week issued warnings to the Kenyan government and four international oil companies it said were “illegally exploiting” offshore hydrocarbon concessions off the southern coast of Somalia.
The lobby group said on Thursday the oil giants had engaged in a “gross infringement of Somalia’s offshore resources, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
“These offshore oil blocks are solely owned by the Republic of Somalia as stipulated in the 1982 UN Common Law on the Sea. Kenya’s move to sell these oil blocks violates international law,” said Abdillahi Mohamud, the lobby’s managing director.
“We will file court proceedings against those involved in the coming weeks at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany,” he added.
The two countries have never conducted a joint survey of their maritime boundary, making any legal claims to sell rights of exploration a contentious issue.
The lobby group warned that the companies involved risked being shut out of future Somali energy concessions—the country is thought to hold large untapped reserves—along with any “legal action” the group’s lawyers might pursue.
While all this was going on, sources said South Sudan had reported Kenya to the African Union, seeking to validate its claim to the Ilemi Triangle in Kenya’s Turkana County.
The Sudanese embassy in Nairobi denied the reports last week, but admitted the border line in Ilemi remains unresolved.
“There should be no cause for alarm over the demarcation of the Kenya-South Sudan border since this is not an urgent issue,” said South Sudanese envoy to Nairobi Majok Guandong.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Ongeri also downplayed the row between Kenya and South Sudan but said Kenya would use diplomacy to solve any disagreements that arise.
“We are quite clear as a country where our boundaries are. If there are any disputes, we would be able to discuss them bilaterally to the mutual satisfaction of both sides, so I wouldn’t rate it as an issue at this stage,” he told journalists in Nairobi.
The area in question, estimated to be between 10,000 and 14,000 square kilometres north west of Lake Turkana, is a region barren of habitation save for the nomadic communities who converge there during the dry season to graze their cattle.
So why would South Sudan, despite the denial of the rumour, lay claim on the Triangle? One reason, argues Collins Kowuor, chairman of the Institute of Surveyors of Kenya, is that South Sudan may have realised the area has oil deposits.
Early this year, Kenya found traces of oil at the Ngamia-1 well, located further south in Turkana County.
Uganda and Tanzania too are locked in disputes over controversial territories—Uganda with Southern Sudan while Tanzania is facing off with Malawi over oil and gas exploration in Lake Nyasa/Malawi.
Having languished in abject poverty for decades, the discovery of oil and gas and other precious minerals has sparked new interest in once neglected areas with semi-desert characteristics, deep waters and borderlands such as Turkana.
Africa’s national borders were drawn up in the last quarter of the 19th century in a bid to prevent a Europe-wide war over Africa—the infamous Scramble for Africa — and later inherited by African countries after Independence.
Going by arguments being put forward by different sides currently involved in border disputes, it is becoming apparent that a resolution made by African heads of state in 1964 that member states should recognise and accept borders inherited at the time of Independence was done without a clear knowledge and agreement on exactly where the border lines should lie.
While the 1982 UN Common Law on the Sea is cited in the Kenya-Somalia dispute, Tanzania and Malawi are holding their positions on two conflicting laws governing their borders.
Malawi maintains that the border between the two countries was defined in the Heligoland Treaty signed by Germany and Britain, who were the colonial rulers at that time, on July 1, 1890.
The Heligoland Treaty defined the border between the two countries as being the edge of the waters on eastern shore of Lake Malawi. According to Malawi, the African Union made similar resolutions in 2002 and 2007.
“From the Heligoland Treaty and the OAU/AU resolutions, it is the Malawi government’s conviction that the border still remains the eastern shores of Lake Malawi,” a statement from Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Tanzania for its part believes that the border should be in the middle of Lake Malawi, basing its argument on common international law, which stipulates that in situations where two countries are separated by a body of water, the border is in the middle of that water body.
But Malawi says the principle that Tanzania is depending upon applies only where there is no treaty. It, therefore, does not apply in this case, because the border was clearly and specifically defined in a treaty.
At issue is a largely undeveloped swath of the lake in north-eastern waters near Tanzania, where Lilongwe has awarded a licence to a British firm to explore for oil.
But Tanzania wants a halt to the oil exploration in the 29,600-square-kilometre lake pending talks, in the hope of getting a slice of any discoveries.
There have also been disagreements between Tanzania’s Union government and that of Zanzibar over whether oil and gas should be a Union issue.
By Aggrey Mutambo, Christine Mungai, Nyambega Gisesa, Michael Wakabi, Ray Naluyaga, Joseph Mwamunyange and Adam Ihucha.
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