Kenya, Somalia bid for steady ties also includes fighting suspicions

Foreign Affairs CS Raychelle Omamo

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo (left) with Kenya's Ambassador to Somalia  Maj-Gen (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo. The CS's trip to Mogadishu appeared to remove some of the obstacles that had contributed to souring of relations earlier this year.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo’s Sunday trip to Mogadishu appeared to remove some of the obstacles that had contributed to souring of relations earlier this year.

But her visit also manifested enduring suspicions, including in decisions and counter-decisions preceding the trip.

The good side was that a bilateral session between Ms Omamo and her host, Mr Mohamed Abdirizak, the Somalia Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, agreed to talk ways of opening up business.

A dispatch released on Sunday evening said they agreed to expeditiously organise the third session of the Somalia – Kenya Joint Commission for Cooperation. Recreated during the Hassan Sheikh Mohamud days, this bilateral body had been on a lull most of the time as fights took its place, including the severance of diplomatic ties by Mogadishu last December.

On Sunday, the ministers agreed that the body, usually composed of technocrats and diplomats from both sides, should be reactivated to undertake what they called “comprehensive discussions and develop clear modalities for implementing commitments in the areas of mutual interest”.

Key issues

Those areas included diplomatic relations, which Somalia only restored in June, Trade and Investment, including a clear policy on what should and shouldn’t be exported or how much tax to charge. By the time relations went south, Somalia’s in-tray on Kenyan business issues included deciding when to allow Kenya Airways flights on its soil, whether to unban Kenyan miraa and other policies including labour and taxation as well as validity of documents for movement across borders.

The Sunday communique said education and training, agricultural technology development, fisheries and blue economy, tourism as well as the defence and security cooperation were all back on the table.

The ministers also talked of enhanced tourism and people-to-people interactions, suggesting an intention to tap into available tourist sites, once security improves.

“The ministers undertook to facilitate meetings of the joint technical committee of the ministries responsible for the security, border management and migration, to convene on a priority basis to consider issues relating to ease of movement of people, goods and services across the common border and practical measures to counter illicit trade and illegal migration.

“The ministers also undertook to facilitate the meeting of the trade and transport ministers to consider modalities for promoting bilateral trade.”

Threat of terrorism

Regionally, they agreed to cooperate against the threat of terrorism, and push for peaceful solutions in the troubled Horn of Africa, in a subtle reference to the situation in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

But the trip showed that this was still a tricky relationship.

The Kenyan top diplomat had planned to meet with President Mohamed Farmaajo. But sources told the Nation.africa that the physical meeting did not happen, although the dispatch indicated Farmaajo had “granted audience” to the visiting minister “during which she conveyed warm greetings and a message of goodwill from HE Uhuru Kenyatta”.

Ahead of the meeting, officials had mentioned enduring problems in the relations such as security and the maritime border dispute among some of the issues that could be discussed. The dispute, whose case is pending at the International Court of Justice, was not mentioned in the communique. And Somalia Government Spokesman Mohamed Moalimu indicated his country’s old position of leaving the court to decide the case first remains the same.

No foreign deals

But Farmaajo’s government had preceded the meeting by banning Prime Minister Roble, his cabinet and other government agencies in the federal government from committing to any foreign deals.

“This decree suspends, until elections are held, the state institutions including the executive and other institutions, from entering agreements with other countries, institutions and international companies,” Farmaajo said in a decree on Saturday.

The directive, not a first in Somalia, forbade government ministries and other institutions from entering memorandums of understanding or talks that can impact the future of the country, its sovereignty, and the territorial and marine boundaries of the country.

“No commercial agreements can be entered with foreign parties in the course of the election season,” it added.

On Sunday, Roble countered the decree, issuing another statement that indicated his government will continue with usual duties, including engagements with foreign entities regardless of the electioneering season.

Continue working normally

Moalimu told the media in a statement that the government will continue working normally including enforcing the law, keepings security and protecting the interests of the country and people.

“The National [Provisional] Constitution mandates the government to negotiate with foreign entities on aid, trade, treaties or other issues that are important for our international relations and agreements,” Roble said in a statement issued by Moalimu.

Under Somali law, the executive power of the Federal Republic is vested in the Council of Ministers and Roble argued this made the Cabinet the highest executive authority especially during election time.

Somalia elections, scheduled to go on until October 10, may be an internal matter. But the trip by the Kenyan minister exposed just how divided on the issue of foreign relations Somali politicians are.

Some criticised Farmaajo for trying to undercut his bid to enhance ties with Kenya. Others thought he issued the decree to remove rumours on whether there could be a backdoor deal on the maritime border.

Timing suspect

Omar Shire, a political analyst in in Mogadishu, however, said the timing was suspect.

“The bitter exchanges between the two leaders are likely to widen the rift between the two offices two leaders with unpredictable results for the big jobs in hand such the election process,” he said.

“It is a sad development at this point in time.”

The ICJ, as per the case filed by Somalia is expected to “delimit” the maritime boundary. But it will require both countries to work on the actual demarcation. The Judges are expected to issue the verdict later this year.

Additional Reporting by Abdikadir Khalif

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