Somalia revives relations with Kenya: What has changed?

Relations between Kenya and Somalia have remained frosty in recent years, hitting an all time low in December 2020 when the Mogadishu administration accused Kenya of meddling in its internal affairs. As a result, it withdrew its diplomats from Kenya and gave Kenyan diplomats seven days to leave Mogadishu.

It has been six months since this diplomatic row and the Somali government has decided to reverse its controversial decision. Why has Somalia decided to change its course of action?

‘Kenya accepts conditions’

In a recent interview with Horufadhi Media, the Foreign Minister of Somalia, Mohamed Abdirizak outlined reasons for the cutting ties with Kenya and their decision to revive relations last week.

The Minister highlighted that it was a “difficult decision” for Somalia to make. He elaborated that the decision was four years in the making with President Farmaajo raising the issue of meddling in Jubaland to Kenyan President Kenyatta on multiple occasions including during two well-documented state visits to no avail, only “falling to deaf ears“.

It was a message to Kenya and the world that Somalia was on its final stand regarding the issue” explained Minister Abdirizak. “This led us to reaching our political goal for such discussion to be taken seriously“.

When asked about the exact reason for Somalia to reopen dialogue at this specific time, Abdirizak outlined conditions that Kenya was willing to accept including:

  1. “There cannot be any interference of Somalia’s economy on all levels”
  2. “The independence of Somali Foreign policy”
  3. “Respect of Somalia’s sovereignty”
  4. “Respect for Somalia’s unity and borders”
  5. “Acceptance of Somalia’s political independence”

He emphasised that Kenya showcased signs of readiness to have serious dialogue regarding the above issues which led his government to reverse their decision on relations with Kenya.

The Somali Foreign Minister underlined that these conditions are not “set by the Somali government” but rather are fundamental rightsafforded to” Somalia by international law as members of the United Nations and African Union.

‘Maritime case not on the table’

Despite the circulation of rumours, the Somali Information Minister Osman Dubbe reiterated on Twitter that while Somalia and Kenya were both striving to restore their diplomatic relations to ease tensions and build confidence, the issue of the maritime case remained off the table. He highlight that very specific issue “would be determined by the ICJ“. Dubbe further conveyed that no meeting between the two leaders are schedule at this current time.

This was further underpinned by the Somali Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Somali government team to The Hague, Mahdi Gulaid. The Deputy PM illuminated that the case at the ICJ “was finalised” following the oral hearing completed in March and that the Somali government was “awaiting fair judgement” while the diplomatic relations between the neighbouring countries remained a “separate issue“.

‘Miraa remains prohibited’

A statement released by the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) on May 9th, 2021 outlined the Somali government’s position on the transportation of Miraa or Khat to Somalia, informing all operators that such actions “remain prohibited“.

The SCAA emphasised that any transportation “without the clearance” of the Authority will be considered “unlawful” and “a violation of Somali airspace“.

How did relations get here?

Somalia cut ties with Kenya in December 2020 after the Mogadishu government accused Nairobi of meddling in its internal affairs. This was the case in Jubaland where the former fugitive regional security minister fled custody in Mogadishu to Mandheera, Kenya. It was here where the minister regrouped, trained and attacked the Somali border town of Beled Hawo in January 2021.

Additionally, the Somali government accuses Nairobi of funding and propping up the Madobe administration in Jubaland which has maintained power in Kismaayo since 2011. The former warlord was selected President of Jubaland in 2013. His alleged re-election in August 2019 was disputed by the Federal government of Somalia which accused Madobe of election rigging and “self-appointment“. This was controversially rejected by the Kenyan government which sent a letter of support to Madobe against what it called “dissenting opinions” in Mogadishu.

Relations between Kenya and Madobe have been close, worrying the the Federal government. Madobe’s militia worked alongside the Kenyan Defence Forces during the Kenyan invasion of Southern Somalia in 2011 against Al Shabaab which established his rule in Kismaayo. Since then, Kenya has provided military and economic assistance to Madobe enabling him to maintain power for a decade.

Additionally, the Somali-Kenyan maritime dispute has heavily affected relations between the two countries. Somalia took Kenya to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014 because the Somali government considered Kenyan claims of Somali waters as illegal and a breach of its sovereignty.

Kenya’s lack of evidence in the ICJ case resulted in its embarrassing departure from the hearing before attempting to return to address the court which was rejected by the ICJ. It’s legal basis for the claim was a Memorandum signed in 2009 by the then Minister of National Planning and International Cooperation, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame and Somali Prime Minister, Omar Sharmarke during the unelected Transitional Government of Somalia.

Kenya has left no leaf unturned to influence Somalia to remove the case from the ICJ and instead settle the dispute through bilateral discussion. However, the Somali government has remained adamant that it will not discuss its sovereignty at any point and will allow the time for ICJ to reach its legal verdict. A verdict President Farmaajo has said he is confident will be a victory for the Somali nation and people.

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