Kenya: Somalia Industries Hail Resumption of Diplomatic Ties With Kenya

President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo after the National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi on May 31, 2018.

Mogadishu, Somalia — Somalia's cargo and travel industries have welcomed the resumption of diplomatic ties with neighbor Kenya after a five-month freeze that damaged bilateral trade. But tensions remain over an unresolved maritime territorial dispute.

Somalia and Kenya have announced the resumption of their diplomatic ties Thursday following mediation brokered by Qatar.

Speaking to the media in Mogadishu, Somalia's minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, Mohamed Abdirizack, said Nairobi has agreed not to interfere in the domestic affairs as a condition.

Abdirizack said the foreign policy of Somalia does not tolerate domestic affairs interference. He added respect for sovereignty, no interference in internal political affairs and borders are the foundations of the African Union principles.

As the two neighboring states are working on a new diplomatic engagement, various businesses have been affected during the diplomatic tension.

Among them is Somalia's travel, tourism and cargo sector.

Ali Ahmed Farah, manager of Idil travel and general services in Mogadishu, said the five-month break in relations reduced travel between Somalia and Kenya.

Farah said before Somalia severed diplomatic ties with Kenya, there were five or six daily direct flights between Mogadishu and Nairobi, but the number has been reduced to one or two. He added that the passengers they serve also faced immense visa restrictions due to the closure of diplomatic missions.

Somalia's government's ban on Kenyan flights carrying the mild narcotic drug khat has remained in place since March of last year, while Kenyan farmers still count losses.

At the same time, Somali cargo business operators face challenges from Kenyan authorities.

Mohamud Jamaa from Easy Way Cargo said business has dropped in the past five months.

He said since the two countries engaged in the diplomatic dispute the few airlines transiting Mogadishu - Nairobi route rejected to offer cargo services for fear of consequences from immigration officials. He said they hope business will improve after the announcement of new relations when the two neighbors will lift restrictions.

Qatar's special envoy for mediation of conflict resolution, Mutlaq Al Qahtani, met with officials from both countries in an effort to repair relations.

But Kenya and Somalia still have issues to resolve, the biggest being a dispute over maritime energy rights.

The case was filed in 2014 by Somalia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) - the United Nations' highest court for disputes between states -- and a decision could determine rights to exploit oil and gas deposits in the deep waters off the East African coastline.

Adan Makina, a doctoral student at Walden University in the United States, said it's hard to tell how the ICJ might deal with the case.

"These are two neighboring countries that have had political altercations for a long time. Between 1935-1945 the two colonial powers of Italy and Britain couldn't resolve this maritime dispute and they decided to leave it the way it is. How the two nations can agree on how to reach a resolution is hard to tell," Makina said.

In March, Kenya refused to participate in ICJ hearings about the dispute, citing alleged bias by the court.

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