Cut ties unlikely to hold, experts say of Somalia-Kenya tiff

Uhuru and Farmaajo

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) during a meeting with Somali president Mohamed Farmaajo in 2019.

Photo credit: File | PSCU

Somalia’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Kenya is unlikely to be sustainable, given the many issues that force the two countries to work together.

On Wednesday, Kenya wrote to Somalia seeking clarification on Mogadishu’s Tuesday night declaration of severing diplomatic ties with Kenya and ordering their diplomats back to Mogadishu.

Somalia’s correspondence severing ties was received in Nairobi more than 24 hours after the declaration.

The country’s decision came as Kenya hosted Muse Bihi, leader of Somaliland region, and which Somalia claims as part of its territory, even though they have been separately administered since 1991.

Not a wise move

But a number of observers of Horn of Africa political issues said that while Somalia had a right to complain of any infringement, cutting ties often delays resolving the issues raised.

“It is not a wise thing to do because it ranks just below declaring war,” Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations at USIU-Africa, told the Nation Wednesday evening.

Prof Munene argued that while the cut ties may provide short-term political benefits, pressure from people who will be directly affected by the move could force the leaders to resume the ties.

“Such a decision, however, depends on the leader in charge. For Somalia, President Mohamed Farmaajo is desperate to defend his seat against a stronger opposition so he would try anything that can divert attention from internal politics,” Prof Munene added.

Election drama

President Farmaajo made the decision on Tuesday even as opposition politicians organised protests in Mogadishu to force him to revise the list of election officials charged with running the upcoming polls.

Fourteen candidates, including former presidents and a former prime minister, have threatened to organise parallel elections and boycott the national polls if individuals perceived as loyal to Farmaajo are not removed from the polling commissions.

But President Farmaajo’s second problem is failure to get the loyalty of Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe, a long-term ally of Kenya on security matters. Last month, after a trip from Kenya, Madobe threatened to boycott parliamentary elections in Jubaland unless Somali National Army troops are removed from Gedo region in the state.

Somalia’s federal government thinks Madobe’s change of stance resulted from Kenya’s pressure. A statement from the Foreign Affairs ministry at the time, however, cautioned Mogadishu against diverting attention from the local political programme, denying it was influencing Jubaland.

Joined at the hip

“What Farmaajo has done is a political gimmick. Kenya and Somalia are joined at the hip. The cultural and historic ties cannot just be divorced like that. It is for short term to enable him manipulate the process and hopefully stop the flow of the money from Nairobi’s Somali businesses to his opponents, and he knows it,” Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Kenyan academic and author on Horn of Africa politics, told the Nation.

“He wants to win elections in any way possible and he has already practised that in Hirshabelle, Galmudug and South West state elections,” Abdisamad added, referring to three of Somalia’s five federal states seen as politically allied to Farmaajo after controversial polls there. The other two, Jubaland and Puntland, have tended to oppose his moves.

Mr Abdiwahab reckons that the agreements reached between Nairobi and Hargeisa cannot affect the relations with Somalia as Farmaajo thinks.

“Somaliland has had a liaison office here long before Farmaajo. It wasn’t an issue. The deal on direct Kenya Airways flights is nothing new, Ethiopian flies there already. The deal on business ties is nothing new. Hargeisa buys more miraa from Ethiopia already.”

What Nairobi will do

Nairobi, some government sources indicated Wednesday evening, will not follow through to announce cutting ties as it could play into Farmaajo’s hands. Kenya sees the declaration without formal communication as a way for him to justify negative perception against Kenya through “low-cost propaganda”.

“[The] Somali government has the legal right and mandate to conduct international relations; Kenya meddles in Somalia’s internal affairs; it’s unacceptable,” said Abdrirashid Hashi, a former director of communications at Somalia’s presidential residence, Villa Somalia, and now director of Mogadishu’s think-tank Heritage Institute.

Hashi, however, argued that Somalia may have singled out Kenya when other countries, especially from the Gulf, meddle through other means such as bribing contestants.

“Breaking relations with other countries is not an effective strategy; the state that breaks relations registers its displeasure but that won’t make the other country (Kenya) change its posture; also, the move deprives both states opportunity to communicate,” he wrote on his Twitter page on Tuesday.

“Somali government’s decision to cut ties with Kenya and its real motive should be scrutinised. Why sever ties now? Was this the only option? How do we know this isn’t a quintessential wag the dog move or a diversionary ploy so Kenya’s Amisom contingent which protects Jubaland from Al-Shabaab (as Ugandans protect Mogadishu) is forced to leave?”

About 53 per cent of the estimated 490,000 refugees in Kenya are from Somalia, according to UNHCR data. And even though ties may break, the porous 600km border between the two countries means interaction between the people continues unhindered.

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