Kenya closed the week with good news in diplomatic circles with Tanzania and Somalia pledging to strengthen bilateral relations with Nairobi.
However, the fruits from the optics could take a while, observers say.
It began with the state visit of President Samia Suluhu, who vowed to improve business between the two countries.
“We have agreed to continue addressing the challenges, especially non-tariff barriers, that keep cropping up at our border points,” Suluhu said.
“The challenges need to go. Our Joint Commission on Cooperation will be sitting regularly to resolve them.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to go “as far as strengthening our relations for the benefit of our people”.
Harmonise Covid protocols
One of the immediate resolutions was harmonising Covid-19 protocols. Tanzania now requires a valid negative test for arrivals and those transiting.
However, issues on fishing rights, phytosanitary requirements on maize sales and immigration mismatches were back in play after Suluhu left Nairobi.
In the meantime, Somalia, which cut relations with Kenya on December 15, 2020, said it would rescind the decision.
A statement from Villa Somalia, the official residence of the president, said the decision followed mediation by Qatar.
“In interest of good neighbourliness, the Federal Government of Somalia resumes diplomatic ties with Kenya based on mutual benefit and respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference, peaceful co-existence and equality,” said President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo’s spokesman Abdirashid M Hashi.
The statement did not say anything on the accusations against Kenya that led to the cutting of ties.
It also did not say whether ambassadors Lucas Tumbo of Kenya and Somalia’s Mohamud Ahmed Nur Tarsan would resume duty immediately.
Because Kenya did not sever ties, it is Somalia to decide when to send the diplomat back.
Kenya said it took note of the statement and acknowledged the resumption of relations.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs looks forward to normalisation of relations by Somali authorities, including with regard to trade, communication, transport, people to people relations and cultural exchange,” the government said.
However, normalisation of ties happens through official diplomatic documents known as Note Verbale.
Somalia cut ties in December in a 1am statement by Information Minister Osman Dubbe, who is not a diplomat.
Official letters followed two days later. Nairobi had not received official communication by the time we went to press, an envoy familiar with the issue said.
And matters did not look better after a video emerged of Tarsan criticising his president for attempting to extend his term. He did not immediately respond to our inquiries, but a spokesperson said he would report to duty as ambassador to Kenya.
Opportunity to thrive
Horn International Institute of Strategic Studies chairman Mustafa Y Ali said Somalia should take lessons from its abrupt decisions, adding that they have granted Al-Shabaab an opportunity to thrive.
“Kenya should (tirelessly) continue offering Somalia assistance using its good offices as it did in the 1990s through 2000–2010, to help the country stabilise,” Ali told the Nation.
“Most importantly, the troubled neighbour should be willing to accept and respect the country that has stood with it in the last troubled 30 years by hosting refugees, providing technical and financial support and fighting Al-Shabaab. Somalia should be more careful.”
There had been back channels before Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani appeared in Mogadishu and Nairobi to deliver a message from Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani last week.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i flew to Doha weeks ago and met Qatari authorities, who had been sending emissaries to Farmaajo.
The back channels yielded fruit in March when Farmaajo agreed to drop criminal charges against Jubbaland’s former Interior Minister Abdirashid Janan.
Janan “surrendered” to Somalia from Kenya on March 24, but rather than being taken back to jail from where he had reportedly fled, he was welcomed by security chiefs in Gedo and flown to Mogadishu before he left for the Middle East.