East Africa: Somalia-Kenya Frosty Relationship - Who Could Be Provoking Who Here?

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) welcomes his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed at State House in March 2017.
analysis

The recent Kenya Somalia diplomatic spat where Somalia President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo recalled his envoy from Nairobi, brings to the Farmaajo administration's displeasure at what he terms Kenya treating Somalia like a "foster child" and not an equal partner.

On November 29, Farmaajo recalled his ambassador to Kenya, Mohamud Ahmed Nur for "consultation." He also ordered Kenya's envoy to Somalia, Lucas Tumbo, to return to Nairobi, in what Mogadishu said was undue "interference" in the internal affairs of Somalia.

At the centre of the diplomatic spat is Jubbaland President, Ahmed Mohamed Islam, commonly known as Sheikh Madobe, who sources say always reneges on agreements after making calls or visiting Nairobi. The Farmaajo administration believes Sheikh Madobe has been working closely with Kenyan intelligence for "ulterior "motives.

Sheikh Madobe recently announced soon after landing in Kismayu from Nairobi that Jubbaland will not hold the elections for senators that were was scheduled for December 1-10, until Mogadishu withdraws its troops from Gedo.

Mogadishu then accused Nairobi of having influenced Sheikh Madobe to go against the September election agreement with the view to destabilise the election process, but Kenya's Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately termed the accusations false and "regretful".

"Kenya continues to support the people of Somalia in their quest for peace and stability, as well as making a meaningful contribution towards re-establishment of institutions of political governance," said the statement.

Nairobi instead said all political players in Somalia should remain true to their political commitments, avoid distracting actions and constructively ensure timely implementation of the elections calendar, which will mark another critical phase in the post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Somalia.

But Information minister, Osman Dubbe, did not hide Villa Somalia's displeasure. He told journalists in Mogadishu three days later that Nairobi is becoming the hub of the opposition which seeks to overturn local agreements.

Perceived opposition

"Since independence, Somalia has never hosted any Kenyan opposition," said Mr Dubbe. He accused Nairobi of economic sabotage by destroying Hormuud Telcom telecoms masts, and "restrictions on air transport and not affording Somalis working in Kenya same treatment as they receive in Somalia."

Farah Maalim, a former Deputy Speaker of the Kenya National Assembly said that the Kenyan forces in Somalia under the African Union Mission in Somalia, could have improved the relations between the two countries by engaging in social activities such as building schools, hospitals and vaccinating the livestock of the local population.

"Currently, the Kenyan forces are seen as more concerned with defending Sheikh Madobe and keeping him in power. But Kenya should know that Somali people always unite against perceived enemies and President Farmaajo is currently exploiting this perception for the sake of elections," said Mr Maalim.

He said Farmaajo's rejection of Kenya's entreaties to settle the maritime dispute out of the International Court of Justice has earned him some mileage as a "Somalia nationalist."

Omar Mahmood, the International Crisis Group senior analyst on Somalia, concurs saying that in 2016, Farmaajo campaigned on a nationalist platform against then incumbent, Sheikh Hassan Mahmoud, who was openly being supported by Ethiopia.

"Some in the opposition note a similar playbook by replacing Ethiopia with Kenya, given that Nairobi has not enjoyed good relations with Farmaajo," said Mr Mahmood.

The ban of Kenya's miraa (khat) exports and flights has come to play. On November 18, Somalia Deputy Prime Minister, Mahdi Mohamed Guled, said that Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto had said in August that the country will negotiate with Somalia on the ban on miraa after elections.

Mr Maalim says this was interpreted to mean a post-Farmaajo regime.

But Kenya has accused Somalia of double standards of banning Kenyan flights citing Covid-19, yet Ethiopia's khat exports are allowed in Somalia. Somalia banned international flights in March, including Khat cargo planes.

The ban on khat exports is hurting the livelihoods of thousands of farmers in Kenya.

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