Kenya, Somalia Stick to Their Guns As Tensions Soar

Kenya and Somalia are embroiled in a diplomatic row that has crippled security, education, and trade ties between the two neighbors.

But where does this conflict stem from?

What started wedging Kenya and Somalia diplomatic relations is a row that ensued between the two East African countries over a dispute on 62,000-square-mile (160,580-square-kilometer) oil and gas-rich area in the Indian Ocean in the shape of a triangle that both nations claim.

Somalia has contended that its oceanic maritime boundary should run in a similar way as the mainland boundary proceeding south. On the other hand, Kenya has argued that the border ends where Somalia and Kenya's coastline borders meet in the shape of a right angle, thus seeing the borderline proceed in a latitude line heading east of the Indian ocean.

Both countries have shown interest in the profitable oil and gas deposits that would fuel local and international energy markets from the strategically located deposits.

The maritime border dispute has opened Pandora's box, causing a plethora of issues that have further soured relations between the two nations that have always been allies.

In 2019, Somalia summoned Kenya's ambassador to Somalia accusing it of violating its airspace after a Kenyan aircraft made a direct trip from the Kenyan capital Nairobi to Kismayo port city, southwest of Mogadishu.

Somalia also filed a case with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country trade bloc in Africa comprising governments from the Horn of Africa, Nile Valley, and the African Great Lakes, accusing Kenyan soldiers who are working under the African Union and UN-backed AMISOM forces of leaving their positions in Somalia and moving to other locations, thus abandoning people who they are supposed to protect from the ruthless al-Shabaab militant group.

The IGAD regional bloc comprises Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

IGAD report

Also, in its complaint to IGAD, Somalia accused Kenyan troops of indulging in the illegal sugar and coal trade in its port of Kismayo and destroying telecommunications equipment around areas they are operating from. Recently, Somalia has accused Kenya of arming militants to attack the town in lower Somalia.

Kenya has denied the violation of airspace and territories of Somalia. Chief of staff of the Kenyan forces, Gen. Robert Kibochi, also termed allegations as "false" that Kenya was arming militias hostile to Somalia.

On Tuesday, an IGAD fact-finding team found that indeed there is sufficient evidence that Kenya has violated Somalia's airspace, but it found no evidence of Kenya interfering in Somalia affairs. IGAD suggested the use of diplomatic efforts for reconciliation between Kenya and Somalia.

Somalia on Wednesday criticized the findings of the fact-finding commission that contended it found no evidence showing that Kenya was interfering in Somalia's affairs.

In a statement, the Somali Information Ministry said: "The federal government of Somalia has described as unrealistic a report issued by the newly-appointed fact-finding committee on a case filed by the Somali government against the Kenyan government."

Speaking to reporters in the capital Mogadishu, Somali Information Minister Osman Dubbe dubbed the report "biased," saying: "The outcome of their report came as a shock to us. The report is one-sided. They [investigators] refused to go to the Somali territory. They went to Kenya twice, they went to Mandera. We wanted them to visit the Gedo region, but they refused to cross the border."

Kenyan Interior Minister Fred Matiangi told reporters in Nairobi that Kenya has not interfered in Somali internal affairs and has not supported any armed groups to attack Somalia.

"We understand there is a conflict on the other side of the border, but it is a conflict internal to Somalia, it has nothing to do with us [... ] we are not involved in it and none of our forces has crossed the border to Somalia. So, I do not know what they are referring to, but we are not involved in that [... ] that is a conflict that is internal to Somalia", Matiangi said.

The head of the African Union on Tuesday urged Kenya and Somalia to exercise restraint, and de-escalate tensions along their borders.

Bilateral ties, trade hampered

Over 3,000 students from the Somali side, who crossover into Kenya every day to attend schools, have been affected by the tensions that have risen along the porous Kenya-Somali border.

In Eastern Kenya, thousands of livelihoods are at stake following a Somali ban on imports of khat from Kenya.

The farmers, packers, transporters, and wholesalers of khat, known as miraa in Kenya, are worried that losing their biggest market, which is Somalia, will leave them without a way of earning a living.

Somalia has imposed a ban on Kenyan khat, which produces a mildly amphetamine-like effect when chewed.

Khat has long-established social and cultural uses among Somali men and is widely consumed in the afternoon, as much as tea or coffee is drunk in other parts of the world. However, its overuse can lead to mental health problems.

Somalia had on Monday lifted the ban on Kenyan khat which earns traders in Kenya $145,000 a day, but later recanted its statement.

Rupture in relations may be political

Omar Mahmood, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Anadolu Agency that the election period and politics, in general, may be to blame for the recent rupture in relations.

"The most recent deterioration in relations is, I think, due to the political cycles ongoing internally in Somalia. There are some fundamental issues between Kenya and Somalia that haven't been resolved, but for the recent rupture in relations on the Somali side, I think, it relates to what the current government in Somalia views as Kenyan support for its opposition," he said.

He added: "Whether that is in Jubaland where Kenya has close relations with Ahmed Madobe or opposition candidates based in Mogadishu or Nairobi, I think the current government in Somalia views Kenya as supporting its opposition. So, the rupture in relations is related to an ongoing election cycle."

Mahmood advises both countries to resolve fundamental issues that are key to mending the ties that are fast deteriorating.

"First, they need to resolve the smaller things, that is restoring relations and coming to the table to rebuild trust and get some positive momentum towards the bigger issues. Kenya and Somalia are intertwined economically, security-wise, and diplomatically. So, having a rupture in relations doesn't benefit either side."

Mustafa Ali, a security analyst, agreed with the African Union call for dialogue to resolve the conflict, saying: "These two countries should and must speak to each other. I fear for Somalia and for the region because al-Shabaab is going to get even stronger if this continues."

Deteriorating relations between the two countries have also dampened any hopes to mend trade ties.

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