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Kenya and Somalia in dispute over oil exploration blocks

10 July 2012

A new dispute has erupted in East Africa between the governments of Somalia and Kenya over the awarding of offshore oil and gas exploration blocks. According to Reuters, Somalia's government has accused Kenya of awarding the blocks illegally to multinationals Total and Eni, claiming the concessions lie in Somali waters.

Somalia (top) believes its territorial waters should extend from the land frontier while Kenya (left) says an agreement signed by the two countries in 2009 fixed the border running east along the line of latitude. The disputed area is in orange
Somalia (top) believes its territorial waters should extend from the land frontier while Kenya (left) says an agreement signed by the two countries in 2009 fixed the border running east along the line of latitude. The disputed area is in orange

The disagreement between Kenya and its war-ravaged neighbour could complicate the hunt for resources along a part of the East African coastline, which is rapidly emerging as an energy hotspot.

Somalia's deputy energy minister Abdullahi Dool said contracts awarded for four blocks in deep waters were invalid and the government planned to complain to the United Nations, which oversees maritime border laws.

The blocks are among seven awarded by Kenya in early July in an area that has been contested by Kenya, East Africa's biggest economy, and war-torn Somalia for many years.

Kenya has rejected the accusation that ownership of the blocks was contested: "Saying these are not Kenyan blocks is like saying we don't have a full-fledged government, like we are a banana republic," said petroleum commissioner Martin Heya.

The two countries disagree over how the maritime boundary between them should be judged, with the dispute mirroring those in other parts of Africa where resources straddle often vague colonial-era boundaries.

Both Eni and Total – which have been awarded blocks L21, L23, L24 and block L22 respectively –  refused to comment.


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