Kenya rejected the accusation that ownership of the blocks was contested and said there was no need to hold up exploration.


Kenya’s first major oil discovery in March has raised expectations of more to come.

“Saying these are not Kenyan blocks is like saying we don’t have a full-fledged government, like we are a banana republic,” petroleum commissioner Martin Heya said.

An Eni spokesman said the company would not comment on the challenge to its rights to blocks L21, L23 and L24. Total, awarded block 122, did not respond to requests for comment.

Kenya says the maritime boundary, over which there is no formal agreement, should run due east from the point at which the land border meets the coast, like the maritime boundaries of other countries along the coast.

Somalia says the boundary should extend perpendicular to the coastline, giving it a big chunk of the waters claimed by Kenya.

The dispute mirrors those in other parts of Africa where resources straddle boundaries that were first drawn only vaguely by colonial era map makers.

Kenya and Somalia signed a memorandum of
understanding in 2009 that the border would run east along the line of
latitude, but Somalia, which has lacked an effective central government since
1991, then rejected the agreement in parliament.

The quarrel over the oil blocks strains
otherwise close ties between Kenya and the Somali government. In fact, Kenya
sent troops into Somalia last year to hunt down the Islamist al Shabaab rebels
who control swathes of the country.

Joshua Brien, a legal adviser with the
Commonwealth Secretariat who is advising Kenya on the matter, said no legal
boundary can be established until both governments sign a U.N.-approved
agreement or move the issue to an international court.

“It’s not impossible they could come
to a resolution, but the situation in Somalia is so uncertain,” Brien told
Reuters by phone from London.

An added frustration for Kenya is that it
cannot extend its claim to the continental shelf beyond its 200 nautical miles
(370 km) of territorial waters until the border spat is resolved. That holds up
the award of more exploration licenses.