Kenya suspends flights to and from Somalia in fresh row

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Photo credit: File

What you need to know:

  • KCAA did not elaborate on reasons for the suspension but suggested there had been a security directive from the government to restrict air traffic between the two countries.

Kenya on Monday suspended flights to and from Somalia in the latest show that relations between the two countries have not thawed as announced last week.

The suspension came after Mogadishu rejected Kenya’s scheduled cargo deliveries and signals that relations between the two neighbours could still be sour. 

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) suspended civilian flights between the two countries until August 9. In a Notice to Airmen (Notam), KCAA said flights departing for, or arriving from, Somalia will not be allowed for three months.

Only humanitarian deliveries and medical evacuation flights will be allowed into the country, the aviation regulator said.

The decision means all chartered and scheduled flights to Somalia will not be allowed. However, flights from Somalia, passing through the Kenyan airspace to another destination will be exempted. 

Also exempted are military flights which are not within the jurisdiction of the KCAA.

This isn’t the first time either Nairobi or Mogadishu is suspending flights. Right after the fall of Siad Barre’s regime, Kenya’s then President Daniel Moi suspended flights and closed borders. A petition from humanitarian agencies, however, allowed a special corridor for aid deliveries.

In later years, Kenya restricted flight arrivals from Somalia, requiring them to first land in Wajir for security checks before proceeding to any other airport. A discussion between the two sides saw the move lifted in 2019, after Mogadishu agreed to intensify security checks for its departing passengers.

A few months later, Somalia banned flights carrying miraa into Somalia from Kenya, and restricted all other flights to land in Mogadishu before going to any other port. Most of this directive was, however, ignored by the rebellious federal states.

Somalia's rejection

On Monday, the KCAA did not elaborate on reasons for the suspension but suggested there had been a security directive from the government to restrict air traffic between the two countries.

KCAA Director-General Gilbert Kibe told the Nation on Monday evening that he had received instructions to suspend flights, but declined to give reasons.

“The government has suspended flights,” he said.

But the Nation learnt that Somalia had rejected a delivery schedule by Kenya’s chartered service operator Bluebird Aviation, which had filed a request to deliver cargo to parts of Somalia, other than Mogadishu.

Bluebird, which routinely ferries cargo to Somalia, had banked on Mogadishu’s statement of resumed relations to request permission. 

Sources told the Nation, however, that the Somalia Civil Aviation Authority declined the request because the aircraft was going to deliver neither emergency goods nor perform an evacuation.

With Kenya annoyed that Somalia was still grounding its civilian aircraft, it decided to pay back with the same coin. 

“This indicated there is no goodwill to normalise relations or there is no clarity on what their statement was about,” said a government official familiar with the decision.

Efforts dented

The move dents any latest efforts to revive relations between the two countries.

On May 6, Somalia, which had cut diplomatic ties with Kenya in December 2020, announced it was resuming relations “in the interest of good neighbourliness”.

Abdirashid M Hashi, President Mohamed Farmaajo’s spokesman, said the decision, reached after mediation from Qatar, meant relations would resume “based on mutual benefit and respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-external interference, peaceful co-existence and equality”.

The resumption of relations came after a series of back channels from Qatar, which involved Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i serving as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s special envoy on Somalia.

Last week, Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani helped broker resumption of relations after Mogadishu announced it was reopening its diplomatic channels it had shut down in December, protesting against Kenya’s alleged interference.

The envoy met the two presidents separately in Mogadishu and Nairobi to deliver a special message from Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, calling on the two sides to normalise relations.

Somali officials clarified the resumed relations will not involve lifting the ban on miraa trade nor discussions about the maritime boundary dispute now before the International Court of Justice and awaiting a verdict.

Somalia, however, has not indicated when its ambassador will resume. Mr Mohamud Nur Tarsan was recalled to Mogadishu and Kenya’s Lucas Tumbo returned to Nairobi after Mogadishu cut ties in December.  Nairobi, however, did not sever the ties.

"Mixed signals"

Kenya is miffed that Mogadishu has added nothing more to the call to resume relations.

Officials in Nairobi say there has been no formal notification, usually through a diplomatic letter known as “note verbale” to advise whether Kenya’s Ambassador, Maj-Gen (Rtd) Tumbo, should report.

They have also not indicated whether Mr Tarsan, the Somalia Ambassador to Kenya, will be reporting to his station.

“We do not know how to interpret their press release, which purported to speak for Kenya as well. We are still awaiting official communication from Mogadishu on whether our ambassador can report and reopen our (embassy) offices and whether we can normalise flights and trade relations,” the official told the Nation last evening.

Nairobi says Mogadishu has given mixed signals on the situation.

On Saturday, Information minister Osman Dubbe insisted that the ban on Kenyan miraa imports will stand regardless of the normalised relations.

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