Nairobi on Thursday, June 10 initiated ‘goodwill’ talks with Mogadishu in an attempt to defrost the messy relations that have seen tensions escalate between the two neighbouring nations.
Kenya lifted its ban on direct flights to and from Somalia which was to last at least up to August 9 easing the travel nightmare for passengers in a move that diplomatic pundits say is a way of trying to woo Mogadishu.
In a coded diplomatic note to Mogadishu, Nairobi said the decision to resume flights operation from the horn of Africa nation was part of Kenya’s efforts to re-establish relations with Somalia, which have been frosty since December last year.
“This goodwill measure has been made in the mutual interest of the two countries and in the hope that it will cause the full normalisation of bilateral relations between Kenya and Somalia including diplomatic, trade and people to people linkages that have undergone undue strain,’’ the note said.
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Kenyan authorities, however, indicated that existing Covid-19 protocols applicable to all passengers travelling to Kenya will remain active.
“All passengers or crew coming to Kenya from Somalia must be in possession of a valid Covid-19 negative test certificate conducted within 96 hours before travel,” read the note.
Kenya closed its airspace and suspended direct flights from and to Somalia in May 2021, hence affecting trade between the two states.
Air travellers from both nations have felt the effects of the diplomatic tiff between Kenya and Somalia.
Passengers have been using the Addis Ababa route which is far and expensive.
Kenya as an East African powerhouse plays a critical role in fostering regional peace, security and stability.
In recent decades, Kenya has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in neighbouring countries and has held several peace engagements in Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
Having felt the impact of instability in Somalia, through becoming a regular target of Al-Shaabab attacks, Kenya contributes her troops to AMISOM- the African Union Mission in Somalia.
On the note to Mogadishu, Kenya reiterated her support in the search for Somalia’s peace and stability, adding that it was a ‘’genuine partner’’.
‘’The Government and the people of Kenya remain true partners for the peace and prosperity of Somalia and look forward to a renewal of the enduring bonds of friendship and partnership between Kenya and Somalia,’’ Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
John Gachie, a Horn of Africa analyst, however, argues that Kenya is caught up in a difficult situation and can’t ignore Somalia hence the move to initiate the ‘goodwill talks’.
“Kenya doesn’t have a choice; it has to engage Mogadishu in a pragmatic and practical manner, with many factors in consideration security and trade being some of the critical ones,’’ said Gachie.
These developments come days after Mogadishu accused Kenya of carrying out ‘military attacks’ in their territory.
On Thursday, Somalia said Kenyan troops who are part of AMISOM will no longer be allowed to conduct airstrikes in Somalia without Mogadishu’s permission.
Osman Dubbe, Somalia’s Information Minister, claimed the move arose after the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) struck a compound last week killing civilians.
The African Union Mission in Somalia has already initiated a probe on the matter.
Nairobi is still tight-lipped on Mogadishu’s allegations that KDF soldiers in Somalia ‘carried out indiscriminate airstrikes in El Adde and Hisa-u-gur in Gedo region killing civilians.
Softening diplomatic stance
On the decision to soften her diplomatic stance with Mogadishu, Gachie said it is in the best interest of Nairobi since it has more to lose if the relationship with Somalia deteriorated than the latter.
“Kenya has more security priorities than trade engagement with Somalia, the ban on Kenyan khat imports is a card being used by Mogadishu to intimidate Nairobi,’’ he said.
Somalia is Kenya’s biggest and lucrative miraa market though the ban on Kenyan khat imports remains active in the Horn of Africa nation.
A diplomatic source privy to the matter told The Standard that Kenya’s decision to go the soft power route on Mogadishu has been influenced by behind the curtain’s talks.
“A lot of issues happen behind the curtain, and these issues enable various developments to take place. The situation must have prompted Kenya to make such a decision. Someone had to take the first move,’’ the source said, adding that diplomacy is not linear.
In reply, Somalia issued a diplomatic note acknowledging Kenya’s ‘goodwill gesture’ to re-open the airspace for Somalia flights.
“This is an important step forward in enhancing bilateral trade, communication and movement of citizens between the two countries,’’ read the letter.
The note from Somalia’s Foreign affairs ministry further indicated that the ‘positive gesture’ by Nairobi was a starting point to kick off negotiations aimed at full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
The letter said that Kenya and Somalia were brotherly nations that always collaborate in security, trade and mutual cultural relations based on common interests, good neighbourliness, respect for sovereignty and political independence.
Somalia further proposed the creation of a joint committee with the Kenyan authorities to come up with modalities that will lead to the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
In December 2020, Somalia announced it had severed diplomatic ties with Kenya in the dead of night citing interference and violation of her sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Somalia further restored ties with Kenya in early May after Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad brokered a diplomatic breakthrough between the two nations.
Restoration of ties between the two states did not last a week before Kenya banned all direct flights to and from Somalia.