Kenya was last evening miffed about Somalia's reported filing of a complaint at the UN aviation agency claiming Nairobi had violated Mogadishu's airspace, though the aircraft in question belonged to the Horn of Africa country.
Officials who spoke to the Nation in confidence said Somalia was abdicating its responsibility of policing the movements of civilian aircraft in its territory by blaming Kenya.
In filing a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the UN's specialised air transport regulator, the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) claimed Kenya had violated its airspace after a plane left Nairobi and flew directly to Sayid Mohammed Hassan International Airport, informally known as Kismayu Airport, in Kismayu, the capital of Jubbaland state.
SCAA Director-General Ahmed Maalim claimed a directive exists that all planes from Kenya must first stop in Mogadishu before heading to Kismayu, an order imposed in September ostensibly to stop a planned inauguration ceremony for local state leader Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Madobe.
But Nairobi thinks the alleged protest is just part of Mogadishu's bid to portray Kenya as a rogue state that doesn't follow rules.
"It sounds like a smear campaign to portray Kenya as bad. But we aren't bad, we are a law-abiding state. In fact, the responsibility to police aircraft movement in Somali airspace rests with the Somali government," said a senior official discussing the matter on background.
Ideally, the official said, Somalia should intercept any aircraft they feel is violating its airspace, something Nairobi is surprised it is being blamed for.
Complaining to ICAO means Somalia wants Kenya reprimanded for not abiding by air navigation standards. According to a member of the ICAO council, the greatest penalty for Kenya could be temporarily losing voting rights in the council should Somalia prove its case. ICAO had not responded to our inquiries by last evening.
The aircraft in question, a Fokker 50 registered in Kenya as 5Y-JXJ, flew out of Nairobi on Saturday and arrived in Kismayu directly without stopping in Mogadishu first. It is operated by Jubba Airways, a Somali airliner that routinely flies to several Somali cities.
Aboard the plane were former federal state leaders Sharif Hassan Aden (South West) and Abdikarim Hussein Guled (Galmudug). There were also several Somali MPs heading to Kismayu ahead of the planned, but controversial, swearing-in of Jubbaland President Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Madobe, according to local online news portal Garowe.
Did Kenya flout airspace regulations? Somalia's airspace control relocated from Nairobi to Mogadishu in 2016. However, due to a personnel shortage, Somalia still outsources the service to neighbouring countries, and to ICAO's regional offices in Nairobi for some aspects of air navigation.
On Tuesday, though, some regional observers were quick to link the complaint to local Somali politics.
"The aircraft belongs to a local Somali airline, not a Kenyan company. Somalia must put their house in order by first regulating their air operators. You cannot blame your downfall on another country," argued Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a commentator on Horn of Africa politics.
"To protest to ICAO against your local airline is ridiculous. It is just a mockery," he argued.
The Federal Government of Somalia under Mohamed Farmaajo imposed direct flight restrictions to Kismayu in a crackdown against any inauguration ceremony, after it rejected Madobe's election victory and ostensibly ordered another election.
Jubbaland argues there is no legal basis to interfere with federal state election.
"The complaint, without any doubt, has political connotations in that the plane that landed in Kismayu and carried opposition figures who were going to attend the rather controversial inauguration ceremony of Ahmed Madobe which is due this week," Abdimalik Abdullahi, a Somali Political Researcher told the Nation Tuesday.
"I am also afraid that it may worsen the already fragile diplomatic relationship between Somalia and Kenya. The current trend will widen the rift."
The big question remains how the aircraft managed to violate the restrictions. This week, Mogadishu had indicated it could relax the restrictions from next week as long as no swearing in happened.
Registered in Kenya, the plane had been leased by Jubba airways, an airline operating between Somalia and Kenya and owned mostly by Somali politicians and businessmen, with local Kenyan partners.