PS Omollo: This is why we're not reopening the border with Somalia, yet

Security teams inspect the security fencing of Kenya Somalia border on February 21, 2017.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya will not reopen its border posts with Somalia anytime soon because of the security implications of doing so at a time when the African Union peacekeeping mission in the neighbouring country is winding down. 

Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo told Nation.Africa in an interview that the move was informed by the need to secure the country at all entry and exit points. 

Dr Omollo's revelation comes nine months after his boss, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh Ali announced their intention to reopen the borders following high-level consultations in Nairobi, which would have ended a 12-year barricade that began in 2011.  

With Kenya sharing some 800 kilometres of border with Somalia, a distance almost equivalent to the journey from Mombasa to Busia, PS Omollo admitted that the route had proved very difficult to secure.

But with Somalia being the newest member of the East African Community, the PS said the troubled country was entitled to benefit from the seamless trade and movement enjoyed by other member states of the community. 

"Somalia is unique because it has faced a lot of challenges, especially terrorism, but when you look at the long border, it makes it very daunting. We had plans and we still have plans to open several border points with Somalia, we thought not now but we will do so even as we consider the challenge of insecurity that this move brings," said Dr Omollo. 

He also explained that Kenya expects more security challenges with the planned withdrawal of the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops in Somalia.

"We are eagerly waiting to see how the drawdown will go and maybe after a few months to almost a year we will be able to make these border points (between Kenya and Somalia) fully functional," he said. 

In addition, the sheer terrain of the stretch shared by the two countries is very rough and will require very heavy investment to seal the loopholes in controlling movement in and out of Kenya. 

"This area is largely arid, so yes, some may say we have a porous border, but it has to be seen in the context of the distance and the geographical features along the border points," he said.

Although the land border posts have yet to open, there is still movement between Kenya and Somalia, particularly by air, with daily flights on the Nairobi-Mogadishu route. This alone means a large number of business transactions between the two countries, which PS says necessitates the reopening of the closed border points. 

"We need to open the border points, which will go a long way in increasing the volume of trade. It will also help us deal with illicit trade as the reopening will help us address the issues that are pushing many to the porous points at the borders," he said.

The PS also gave an insight into the National Border Management Conference at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, which begins today (Tuesday) and will bring together stakeholders in border management to discuss strategies to improve efficiency in the sector. 

At the summit, stakeholders will take stock of operations at border posts over the past decade since the establishment of the Border Control Coordination Operations Committee, currently chaired by PS Omollo. 

"We are meeting to review what is happening globally in terms of border control and also to emphasise the inter-agency approach and coordination in border management. We will also discuss the challenges we face in this area," he said. 

Currently, Kenya shares borders with five countries including Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, necessitating efficient operations at border points in terms of movement of people and goods to facilitate trade. 

"As we speak today, one of the agencies, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), will soon be deploying drones to support its operations at some of the land border points where they are the lead agency in terms of border operations at the land points," PS Omollo said. 

He also said Kenya was changing tactics and would use technology where it could not deploy border guards. 

"In the case of the Kenya Ports Authority or airports, we have body scanners and cameras and that speaks to the fact that it is impossible to have boots in every room. It is also not cost effective and we have to use technology to do that, whether it is drones, cameras or police equipment in terms of security," he said. 

In 2023, fake documents and identification accounted for 40 per cent of all crimes recorded at Kenya's border points, and the government hopes to curb this menace through the country's new visa-free regime, which has significantly reduced such incidents. 

"We have invested in making it difficult for people to obtain travel documents. The introduction of the visa-free regime has also helped to reduce this challenge. Even before someone comes to Kenya, we have information in advance, we can do pre-screening and share the data with agencies like Interpol," he said. 

Aside from the issue of document forgery at border points, there is also the challenge of illegal movement and trafficking, which deprives the country of much-needed revenue to run its programmes.

"For the past month or so, we have been discussing the issue of illicit alcohol and part of it is that we have ethanol crossing the border that is cheaper than what is available in Kenya. In the illicit trade, people are evading taxes and depriving the government of revenue," said PS Omollo.
Also key to the government's plans to improve border management is the involvement of communities through the Peace Committees, which are made up of national government administrators and village elders.  

"This acts as a forum for the government to talk to the community and identify the challenges, the issues and their concerns, and this helps to address not only the security challenges associated with movement across the border and also the illicit trade," Dr Omollo said.
The state is also engaging a number of partners, including IOM, and holding bilateral discussions with other development partners, including the UK and US governments, to support the implementation of community engagement programmes in the border counties.