Somalia has said it will withdraw its diplomats from Kenya and has given Kenyan diplomats seven days to leave Mogadishu.
Somalia on Tuesday deployed troops on its common border with Kenya, hours after severing diplomatic relations with Nairobi in the latest escalation of a spat between the two countries.
In Mandera, residents reported sighting Somalia National Army (SNA) troops taking strategic positions along the common border.
“We have woken up just to see military officers from Somalia taking positions along the border and this is worrying us a lot,” said Ali Abdille, a resident of Mandera.
The SNA deployment forced some locals to start moving out of their homes.
This came after Somalia accused Kenya of meddling in its politics as protests and gunfire erupted in the capital Mogadishu over delayed elections.
The rift follows a reported visit to Nairobi by Muse Bihi Abdi, the president of the self-proclaimed independent Somaliland, in Somalia’s far north.
Abdi had been received by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday, reported the French news agency AFP.
Somalia has also long objected to what it believes is Kenya’s support for Ahmed Madobe, the president of the Somali southern state of Jubbaland, which borders Kenya and includes the key Somali port Kismayo.
Modobe has been at odds with Mogadishu as the central Somali administration prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections due in early 2021.
Somalia’s move to cut diplomatic ties with Kenya followed the invitation of Somaliland leader Muse Bihi to Nairobi.
On Tuesday evening, Kenya appeared unperturbed by the decision by Mogadishu to cut ties, announcing plans to open a consulate in Hargeisa, the capital of breakaway region of Somaliland, and direct flights by Kenyan airlines, including Kenya Airways.
Kenya declared “unwavering commitment” to deepen cordial bilateral ties with Somaliland, a region of Somalia that has declared independence since 1991, but which no other African nation has endorsed, even though it is routinely treated as one.
A dispatch following a meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Somaliland leader Muse Bihi said Nairobi would proceed to open a consulate in Hargeisa, joining Ethiopia and Djibouti.
In addition, Kenya Airways (KQ) is set to launch direct flights from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to Hargeisa, Somaliland, in March following a deal inked by President Uhuru Kenyatta, a move that could harden conflict between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
The plans come barely five months after Kenya’s low cost carrier –Jambojet put on hold plans to launch direct flights from JKIA to Somali capital Mogadishu due to high insurance needed to ply the route.
Somalia has recently been embroiled in a row over a maritime dispute with Kenya. The dispute between Somalia and Kenya is over oil and gas. The Kenyan Government accused Somalia of auctioning off oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territory. Kenya has called Somalia’s actions as an ‘act of aggression’.
The dispute between Somalia and Kenya could undermine cooperation in the fight against the Islamist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia, where Kenya provides 3,600 troops to an African Union peacekeeping force.
Kenya is a key base for fighting al-Shabab, one of the world’s most resilient extremist organizations. Al-Shabab has launched a number of attacks inside Kenya, including against civilian buses, schools and shopping malls. The extremist group also has carried out multiple attacks against Kenyan troops in the past in retaliation for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight it.
It is therefore likely that the tension between Somalia and Kenya would excerbate the already fragile battle against Al Shabaab especially after the United States President Donald Trump ordered all American troops that have been supporting the peacekeepers in Somalia.
Osman Dubbe, the Somali Minister for Information, announced the move to cut ties with Nairobi on national TV a few minutes to 2 a.m., breaking tradition of countries making such pronouncements during the day. Mr Dubbe said Kenya had “constantly interfered” with Somalia’s internal affairs and that Nairobi was violating Somalia’s sovereignty.
Last month, Somalia expelled Kenya’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy after alleging interference in the electoral process in Jubbaland, one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states. Also last year, Kenya recalled its ambassador after Mogadishu decided to auction disputed oil and gas exploration blocks at sea. Ties were restored a few months later.
The new diplomatic flare-up came as anti-government protests broke out in Mogadishu, according to Reuters reports.
Demonstrators denounced President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – usually known by his nickname “Farmaajo” (cheese) – over delayed votes for both houses of parliament.
The polls were due early this month but became snagged on disagreements over the composition of the electoral board.
The diplomatic row comes at a time when Kenya, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been engaging with their Somalia counterparts to resolve the stalemate that has seen Kenya lose millions of shillings in foreign earnings after miraa was banned from accessing that market.
Miraa farmers will have to wait longer before they regain access to the Sh16 million-a-day Somalia market following the latest move by the Horn of Africa State to severe diplomatic ties with Kenya.
Somalia currently allows Ethiopia to export its khat to the country, technically locking out Kenya out of this crucial market.
“The latest move is a blow to farmers as they will have to contend with the current situation of lack of market for their crop,” said Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) chairman Kimathi Munjuri.
He added that Mogadishu is the single largest market that Kenya has for its miraa, and that Somaliland has no capacity to absorb thousands of tonnes that Mogadishu buys as most of its market is served by Ethiopia. Kenya only provides about five tonnes at most when there is unrest in the Oromo region.
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