By Abdirahman Yusuf
Kenya and Somalia have had a cocktail of diplomatic association but the recent directive for refugee relocation almost dipped the relationship.
Kenya and Somalia have reached a gentleman agreement after the two neighbours neared a diplomatic spat following the announcement to shut down one of the world’s largest refugee camps in Kenya.
The Daadab refugee camp holding about 330,000 refugees mainly from Somalia has been in existence for close to three decades with Kenya having announced its arbitrary closure last month. The Kenyan government even went ahead to disband its department responsible for managing the affairs of the refugees.
Somalia President then signaled a ban on Kenya’s export cash cow to Somalia, Khat, popularly known as Miraa in Kenya. The crop commonly grown in the Eastern parts of the country and near Mount Kenya regions was been banned two years in the United Kingdom dealing a heavy blow on the economic lifelines of the people in those regions.
Somalia was the only hope after the ban on Khat by United Kingdom with tones after tones of the stimulus twigs being flown to Somalia daily from Kenya’s main airports in Nairobi. On average 16 flights from Nairobi ferry miraa to and from Somalia daily.
So dire is the situation that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently gave out a USD100 million to the region to cushion farmers from the shocks associated with the ban on the product.
The recent budget clearly allocated the stimulus package for the miraa farmers in the region signaling the extent of loss Kenya would have undergone had Somalia maintained the ban.
“… I have also set aside Sh1 billion for Crop Diversification Programme in the Meru region for the Miraa Farmers,” Kenya’s cabinet secretary in charge of finance said while reading the Kenyan budget.
When Somalia president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited Kenya in June, the talks between the two heads of state seemed to have reached a truce with the government regressing to the voluntary repatriation while the Khat business to Somalia will continue.
Kenya will for now continue to depend on Somalia as its sole importer of the stimulant twigs.
Kenya and Somalia have had a cocktail of diplomatic association but the recent refugee subject almost drove the relationship south.
The Somali refugees some of whom have known no other home will now be repatriated to the places of their choice which they reportedly made known during the visit by the Somalia president Mohamud.
The president became the first Somali leader to visit Daadab refugee camp as Kenya piled pressure on the state to receive its citizens who have been camping in escape of war and insecurity.
The two presidents were accompanied by high-ranking officials from both countries including Somali Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Abdusalam H. Omer and Somalia ambassador to Nairobi Jamal Mohamed as well as Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery.
The Somali Leaders said the horn of Africa nation was ready to receive the Daadab returnees. President Mohamud also assured the refugees that they will be fully included in the rebuilding and the peaceful existence of Somalia.
“Somalia needs its people back home a process which has to end in a smooth, friendly and amicable manner,” said President Mohamud.
With the two presidents agreeing on the modality to repatriate the refugees, the business ties which played a huge role in the harmonized positions will be expected to guide future diplomatic engagements and possibly balance the trade between the two countries.
Trade has for a long time been skewed in favour of Kenya with most products including the lucrative Khat business while very little leave Somalia in formal trade that may earn the country the millions in revenues it badly needs for economic renaissance.