Somalia Severs Diplomatic Ties With Kenya
NAIROBI, Kenya – Somalia severed diplomatic relations with Kenya on Tuesday, accusing the neighboring East African state of meddling in its internal political affairs weeks before the crucial parliamentary elections.
The information minister said Somalia cut ties because Kenya violated its country’s sovereignty. In an announcement broadcast on state television, Minister Osman Dubbe said Somalia would recall all of its diplomats from Kenya and give Kenyan diplomats seven days to leave the country.
“The Somali federal government made this decision in response to the political violations and the continuing apparent interference of the Kenyan government in the sovereignty of our country,” said Dubbe. “The current leadership of the Kenyan government is working to divide the two nations that share common interests.”
The gap is the culmination of years of deteriorating relationships. It came a day after Kenya’s President received the President of Somaliland, the north-western region that declared independence from Somalia in 1991.
Although Somaliland is not internationally recognized, it has largely avoided the same violence that prevails in the rest of Somalia and established its own military, political administration and monetary system.
Somalia also accused Kenya of meddling in the election campaign ahead of a parliamentary vote scheduled for later this month, as it struggles to move towards a more stable political system with smooth transfers of power.
Somalis have faced myriad threats, from floods and desert locusts to the coronavirus pandemic, and opposition groups and their supporters clashed with police in Somali capital Mogadishu on Tuesday as they began protests to urge the government to get a fair vote .
In addition to the uncertainty in the country, the United States announced a little over a week ago that it would withdraw its troops from Somalia and expressed concerns that the security gains made over the past decade against the Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group, this could be undermined and the militants could try to claim it as a victory.
Kenya and Somalia share a 430-mile border and both have been persecuted by Shabab violence. You have been embroiled in a maritime dispute for years which is currently being heard before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The most recent escalation of tensions began in late November when the Somali Foreign Ministry accused Nairobi of meddling in the upcoming elections, recalled its ambassador to Kenya, and required Kenyan passport holders to apply for visas in advance rather than receiving them on arrival.
Somalia said at the time that Kenya was putting pressure on the leader of the Jubaland state in southern Somalia after threatening to boycott the general election.
More than 3,600 soldiers are stationed in Kenya as part of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. Much of these troops are in the Jubaland region, which borders Kenya, and in 2012 Kenya helped wrest the capital of Jubaland, Kismayo, from the Shabab.
The election campaign in Somalia has intensified in recent weeks as presidential candidates accused President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who took office in 2017, of holding onto power by using the secret services to control the electoral process.
Rather than using a one-person voting system with a single ballot, clan leaders select delegates who elect legislators who in turn elect a president.
With election preparations lagging behind, there has been a stalemate between the regional states and the national government. Experts say these tensions could allow the Shabab and other militant groups to capitalize on these divisions and disrupt the whole process.
Hussein Sheikh-Ali, former national security advisor to Mr Abdullahi and chairman of the Mogadishu-based research group at the Hiraal Institute, said the conflict with Kenya had allowed the president to distract from the difficult electoral process.
While the president “deliberately chose this diplomatic confrontation with Kenya for election campaign purposes, it will definitely have far-reaching consequences for both regional stability and the fight against terrorism,” he said.
The decision to sever ties in the region could be particularly worrying for the region given President Trump’s decision to withdraw all 700 or so American troops from Somalia by January. Many Somalis say this is a bad time and could be well advanced. Consequences for stability in the Horn of Africa.
Still attacking civilians and military targets, the Shabab makes millions of dollars annually blackmailing local businesses.
In addition to Somalia’s suffering, more than 5 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations. Flash floods displace tens of thousands of people and desert locusts threaten the crops.
Murithi Mutiga, Horn of Africa project leader for research organization International Crisis Group, said Tuesday that neighbors should work together to address common challenges, particularly in the security area.
“Both sides seem unable to give diplomacy a chance and are instead in an escalation cycle that does not serve either party well,” he said.