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Somalia – Kenya dispute rages on

Somalia and Kenya seem to be testing the boundaries of their diplomatic relationship…Events of the last two months indicate that it might not end well.

What began as a simple misunderstanding is turning into full blown diplomatic nightmare between Somalia and Kenya.

Barbs have been traded, protest letters written, ambassadors recalled, business interfered with and now in the last two months, an ambassador has been summoned by the host nation, one country is threatening to arrest and prosecute the citizens of the other country… It is getting messy by the day. If not well handled, this diplomatic row may turn into a real threat.

The Kenyan Foreign Affairs Secretary Monica Juma was in London in the last week of June. This is really a piece of useless information to Somalis. But when you add what she said on the 27th of June to the statement, Somalis might want to sit up and listen.

While giving a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), addressing a collection of defense policy experts, she said that the issue between Kenya and Somalia is unfortunate and has been hijacked by external interests. The issue in this case, is the maritime border dispute that has dogged the two countries for years now and has of late escalated to a level that has everyone worried and concerned.

“This issue, we believe, is the surest demonstration of the effects of commercial interests in the context of a fragile country,” Dr Juma said during the lecture.

Commercial interests

Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed has tried to intervene.

It is even more unsettling that she decided to utter these words in London. The escalation of and downward trajectory of the relationship between Somalia and Kenya begun in London at the start of the year during a conference that Kenyan claimed was used to auction certain disputed oil blocs. Somalia has of course denied the allegation but the diplomatic and business situation between the two countries has moved from tense, to anxious, to tense, to anxious and to what now appears to be a ‘bring it on’ phase.

Barely a day after the London statement by Monica Juma, Somalia’s Foreign Affairs ministry summoned the Kenyan Ambassador to Somalia to their offices and handed him a protest letter. The contents of the protest letter were not immediately disclosed but it was revealed that Somalia was reacting to a meeting that Somaliland Foreign Affairs officials had with their Kenyan counterpart.

Mogadishu summoning the Kenyan Ambassador Lucas Tumbo and handing him that notice was seen by many as a sign that the relationship between the two countries looked like it was about to take a turn for the worst.

Looking for trouble

The Somaliland officials were hosted in Nairobi, where they had a discussion with the Kenyan Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary. After the meeting, the PS posted about the meeting on Tweeter, saying he met with Somaliland Foreign Affairs minister Yasin Hagi Mohamed and went ahead to call the meeting successful. Mogadishu wasn’t pleased. They sent out a statement that described the tweet as reckless. “We consider this tweet an affront to Somali sovereignty, unity and  territorial integrity as well as harmful to the relationship between Somalia and Kenya,” Somalia said in the statement.

This is not the first tersely worded letter written and passed between the two countries in the past few months. On May 21st, Kenya sent a violently charged diplomatic letter to Somalia regarding the obstruction and destruction of the fence that Kenya has been building as a border wall between the Kenya and Somalia.

Two page terse letter

The two page letter that was seen and republished by The Standard Newspaper in Nairobi said; “Kenya is assessing the cost of damage caused by Somali citizens with a view of demanding compensation,’ it went on to say, ‘When Kenya suspended the construction of the fence for two weeks in 2017, it exhibited the highest level of patience, good faith, friendship and good neighbourliness.

It is Kenya’s expectation that Somalia will reciprocate by taking appropriate action to ensure that Kenya’s border security is not obstructed or in any way inhibited by the actions of its citizens.” In response to the letter, Somalia dismissed the claims as fabrications that they have no knowledge of.

In a statement, the government of Somalia asked the Kenyan counterparts to share the relevant information should they have evidence of such incidences.

“The government of Somalia is, moreover, not aware of any and does not have any evidence of any damage caused by its citizens to the wall/ fence. Should the Government of Kenya wish to share relevant information with the government of Somalia, the latter would be happy to give it appropriate consideration.”

Government of Somalia.

After this letter, the government of Somalia floated the idea of coming up with a technical and legal working group to clear out the differences between Somalia and Kenya. It appears that this suggestion didn’t get any traction in the right offices, among the right people.

Warning after warning

Mandera border has been an issue.

At the same time, Somalia warned that its leaders will hold off from holding or attending conferences that are held in Nairobi regardless of how important they are. After this, the situation wasn’t pretty to say the least. Somalia is said to have diverted all its official meetings to other ‘favourable’ destinations such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda.

The Kenyan government ordered planes from Somalia to land in the far off town of Wajir first for inspection before coming to Nairobi, then it banned unaccompanied luggage on planes from Somalia followed by the holding of a few Somali officials at the airport when they got into the country. Kenya seems to have overreacted in this case. Somalia’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad, however, told The Standard Newspaper that Mogadishu was not ready to escalate the diplomatic tiff.

“We’re not interested in a tit-for-tat. We’re interested in having a good relationship with Kenya,” he said. At the same time, he rubbished reports that there are some sort of alliances being created by Kenya and Somalia’s regional administrations, particularly with Somaliland.

The situation between Kenya and Somalia is causing jitters across the region. And as the verdict by the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the 100,000 Km2 region gets close and closer, the situation between the two countries is getting out of control day by day.

And while the tiff so far has been confined to letters and words between the Foreign Affairs offices and Ambassadors, there is possibility that one of these mornings, a president from one of the two countries will say something and that might be the proverbial stroke that breaks the camel’s back.

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