Somalia’s diplomatic revolution

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TSI Reporter

Somalia’s visa policy states foreigners from all nationalities require visas, often provided on arrival at the mainstream international airport in Mogadishu and other entry points. The government plans to change the policy, requiring visitors and potential visitors to acquire the visas before traveling to Somalia.

Somalia is ready for a diplomatic turnaround.  After 25 years of civil conflict, Somalia is looking to turn the diplomatic corner.  With a series of bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries already signed, Mogadishu is preparing to start the issuance of visas and other travel documents to visitors before the end of the year.

The Somali embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, is being prepared to become not just a hub for the issuance of travel documents, but will be transformed into a regional trade center.

Somali ambassador to Kenya Gamal Mohamed Hassan said the various initiatives being undertaken to reform and restructure the consular section of the Embassy are not meant to curtail travel, but are initiatives aimed at enhancing security and streamlining formal trade between Somalia and neighbours.

“The visas are not to hinder travel to Somalia. They are for security reasons. We want to know who comes in and who goes out,” Ambassador Gamal said. “The visa processing will be implemented across all Somali embassies around the world.”

Somalia’s visa policy states foreigners from all nationalities require visas, often provided on arrival at the mainstream international airport in Mogadishu and other entry points. The government plans to change the policy, requiring visitors and potential visitors to acquire the visas before traveling to Somalia.

Somalia is considering the visa rule exemptions to some countries. The nationalities of Kenya, Turkey and Djibouti, are likely to be exempted from the visa requirements as a sign of goodwill.

The issuance of the visas is a sign of Somalia’s growing efforts to bolster provision of services. The visas will be issued to potential foreign investors. The provision of services will also extend to other social and financial services, which is symbol of Mogadishu’s recovery efforts after years of conflict.

“We are treating all visa requests on a case-by-case basis,” Ambassador Gamal said.

Somalia has also intensified diplomatic lobbying against the security measures put in place in Kenya, which have raised the cost of travel to Somalia and also made air travel to Somalia more cumbersome.

“The visas are not to hinder travel to Somalia. They are for security reasons. We want to know who comes in and who goes out. The visa processing will be implemented across all Somali embassies around the world.” Ambassador Gamal said.

Kenya enforced a series of tough measures against travelers from Somalia in January, 2007 when an Ethiopian forces-led military campaign sent several people fleeing Mogadishu. The Kenyan government temporarily suspended flights from Mogadishu into Wilson airport in Nairobi.

Part of the conditions for the resumption of the flights was to have all flights land in Wajir for inspection. The security check-in procedures for all passengers traveling to and from Somalia have also been enhanced, making the travel much more tedious and tiresome.

The flight suspensions enforced by the Kenyan authorities in November 2006, were later reviewed with stringent controls and curbs. Passengers arriving in Kenya are forced to undergo a second check-in and screening at Wajir airport before being allowed to fly into Nairobi, where they again undergo further screening.

“The movement of people has always been an issue. We want the second check-in at the airport to stop,” Ambassador Gamal said in an interview at the Somali embassy in Nairobi.

Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, retired Major-General Lucas Tumbo, met recently with Ambassador Gamal in Nairobi for talks on matters of mutual concern to the two sides.

Kenya and Somalia have formed a Joint Commission for Cooperation (JCC), a ministerial level framework of cooperation. The Commission offers a platform for discussion on issues such as the resettlement of Somali refugee affairs; trade and economic cooperation. The two ambassadors met to push forward the implementation of matters before the JCC.

Ambassador Gamal said the issues under discussion include how to end the mandatory stop-over in Wajir for the flights from Somalia, the implementation of a visa exemption requirement for Somali citizens visiting Kenya in response to Mogadishu’s similar arrangement for Kenyan citizens.

“There are issues of basic cooperation. We do not impose visas on Kenyans traveling to Somalia. We want to discuss these issues,” Ambassador Gamal said.

The two sides are also discussing the implementation of measures such as investment guarantees for both Kenyan and Somali investors. Somalia wants Kenya to extend similar treatment to Somali investors in Kenya. There are also issues such as tax incentives for the investors and the investment protection.

“We are working on these issues. We want to attract investments to Somalia. Our laws are liberal. We are also trying to increase our capacity to handle the enhanced role that we want our Embassy to play on matters of regional trade. Our role is also to empower the Somali people,” Ambassador Gamal said.

During a recent visit to Kenya, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud held talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi, agreeing to the immediate convening of the JCC. The leaders said the Commission should discuss the progress on matters pertaining to the border crossings, security, trade and investment, health, education, sports culture and scientific research.

During the 8 June bilateral talks in Nairobi, President Mohamud and President Kenyatta agreed the customs clearance and immigration clearance procedures for flights from Somalia to Kenya be carried out at one point of entry to be determined within the short-term. Both sides resolved modalities of ensuring the direct flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu would be discussed as a long-term measure.

Somalia’s increasingly expanding diplomatic prowess remains to be confirmed with the next Summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), being proposed to be held in Mogadishu.

The holding of the next IGAD Summit in Mogadishu was one of the issues discussed between President Mohamud and President Kenyatta.