Kenya-Somalia cross-border trade resumes after partial lifting of ban

Fishermen mend nets at Manda Toto landing site in Lamu County near the Kenya Somalia border. The government’s plan is to have the border ban fully lifted in the coming days as a way of improving warming relations between Kenya and Somalia.

Photo credit: Kalume Kaungu I Nation

For the last three years, Nadina Asman, 25, has been a bitter and distraught woman.

In 2019, Ms Asman, from Kiunga on the Kenya-Somalia border in Lamu County, was to marry her Somali fiancé Osman Latif, who lived on the other side of the border in Kismayu.

But a 2019 Kenyan government order to close the border scuttled her wedding.

Her fiancé married someone else.

“The ban came as a shock. My fiancé was to come home to pay my bride price. He couldn’t cross to Kenya due to the ban. And that’s how

I lost my husband-to-be, who ended up marrying another woman in Somalia. We no longer communicate,” Ms Asman said.

Similarly, Somali residents, especially the expectant women and children of Ras Kamboni, relied on the Kiunga health centre for medical treatment.

It is the only medical facility on the border that offered antenatal and postnatal care and infant immunisations.

“The ban hindered us from visiting Kiunga for medication. We’re happy that the partial border opening will at least allow us access to medical services like before,” said Khadija Abdi.

For four years, activities on the Kenya-Somalia border in Lamu County were banned, undermining the cross-border economy and the cultural and social activities of local communities.

The ban strained business and livelihoods, including the fishing and miraa trade, the economic mainstays of the area.

The key objective of the ban was to curb human trafficking, the drugs trade, terror attacks and the smuggling of contraband.

But it has now been partially lifted, according to Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia.

The administrator confirmed that the state had relaxed some of the restrictions on the border and that there have been limited cross-border movements for several weeks now.

The government’s plan is to have the border ban fully lifted in the coming days as a way of improving warming relations between Kenya and Somalia.

Miraa traders and fishermen have been crossing freely into Somalia from Kenya and vice versa as they try to earn a living.

“This was a security measure. We’re, however, in discussion to have the ban fully lifted. As we speak, we’ve already allowed limited cross-border movement and partial opening of the border,” said Mr Macharia.

He said security agencies were waiting for the new government under President-elect William Ruto to settle before embarking on discussions on how the ban will be fully lifted.

“We shall soon embark on enhanced community sensitisation meetings on the [issue]. We want their opinion before the border is fully opened,” Mr Macharia said. 

“My appeal to the border communities is for them to assist us by sharing information that will aid in fighting any arising security threats and ensure the border opening is a success.”

Miraa traders, fishermen and residents who spoke to the Nation lauded the government’s move to partially open the border.

Hassan Yusuf, a miraa seller, said the lifting of the ban had boosted their trade already.

“The miraa business was down. Somalia is our major miraa market and we couldn’t send even a single boat ferrying miraa to be sold in

Somalia,” Mr Yusuf said. 

“The ban had totally killed our business. I am happy that at least we can dispatch miraa to Somalia because the border has been partially opened.” 

Lamu fishermen chairperson Abubakar Twalib also thanked the state for allowing limited cross-border movements.

Mr Twalib said nowadays they are able to fish near the border areas of Ishakani, Ras Kamboni and Sarira and even cross over to towns like Mogadishu, Kismayu, Puntland, and Hirshabelle in Somalia.

“This couldn’t have happened before. We were outlawed from exploring the sea past Kiunga town and any other areas close to the Kenya-Somalia border,” he said. 

“This killed our fishing. But I am confident the recent opening of the border, though partially, will restore our fishing lost glory.”

The partial border opening was also welcomed by residents of villages on the Lamu-Somalia border.

The ban had ruined the social lives of border communities.

For instance, Lamu residents in Kiunga, Ishakani, Ras Kamboni, and Sarira who had intermarried with their Somali neighbours from

Kismayu and Mogadishu had their family relations strained as they were forced to stay apart.

Abdulrahman Bwana, whose wife is of Somali origin, said he had not been able to visit his in-laws for years. Now he will be able to cross the border.

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