Kenya’s policy on breakaway Somaliland still intact – officials

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo. 

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Kenya has said its policy on Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland has not changed, in spite of recent overtures by the region to seek global recognition as an independent entity.

Instead, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo said, Nairobi considers Somalia one entity with federal regions under autonomous administrations.

She spoke on Friday at the launch of a report on the Foreign ministry’s work since 2020.

But the focus on Somalia came after the UK House of Commons debated the ‘independence’ of Somaliland as politicians there pushed their government to recognise the region as separate from Somalia.

“We don’t want to get ourselves involved in what politicians in other countries are doing. But for the time being, we acknowledge and accept the federal nature of the country of Somalia,” she told a press conference in Nairobi.

“Somaliland has not submitted to us any application to recognise them as a separate entity from Somalia. And so for us, we will deal with Somalia again as a friendly neighbour, accepting that they have federal units and we will engage those federal units in a way that sustains the unity of Somalia and friendship with Kenya.”

UK parliament debate

The UK parliament debated the motion on whether to recognise Somaliland leader Muse Bihi Abdi, who landed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa without the usual protestations from Mogadishu whenever a red carpet is rolled out for him abroad.

There was no expectation Ethiopia would signal recognition yet, but that trip continued the de facto treatment of Somaliland as a separate entity.

Ethiopia, the UK, Kenya and several other countries have consulates in Hargeisa. In December 2020, Mogadishu cut ties briefly with Kenya after it hosted Bihi, who has since toured Ethiopia and Djibouti without Somalia’s protests.

Ms Omamo said Nairobi’s interest is to keep Somalia united and peaceful.

In the UK, the motion, led by Conservative MP Gavin Williamson, sought to challenge London to recognise what it sees as a region of the Horn of Africa that has defended freedom in a volatile area of the continent.

The motion, which wants to ensure London “recognises the 1991 declaration of independence” by Somaliland from Somalia, calls on the UK government to formally declare the region an independent state while taking steps to ensure dialogue between all parties, including the African Union, so as to bring about a lasting solution.

Somaliland diplomats excited

The motion excited Somaliland diplomats, with many banking on it to push through their desire to get out of Somalia’s shadows.

“We have been standing up for democracy, the rule of law, free market economic system, human rights and freedom of the press and the public opinion for 30 years,” said Mohamed Hagi, Somaliland’s head of the diplomatic mission to Taiwan.

“Our country deserves to be recognised as all our governments from 1991-2022 use democracy [to] keep our people together.”

But politicians in Mogadishu were miffed, even though Somalia did not issue a formal statement on the debate.

Previously known as British Somaliland, it merged with Italian Somaliland in 1960 to create the Somali Republic. But after the fall of Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somaliland declared unilateral independence. It has gone on to form its own successive governments, a central bank, an army and a police force.

Somaliland’s beef with Barre was that he killed tens of thousands of Somalilanders in the hunt for guerrilla fighters who targeted his regime. One of the bombers was even memorialised in Hargeisa, with a statue in the centre of the city.

Somalia rejects the bid for independence, and successive Somali administrations have banked on politicians in the north who want a union, rather than two independent states, to argue that there is one Somalia.

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