A secret weekend visit to Somalia by 11 Kenyan MPs at a time the two countries are locked in a diplomatic tiff has raised eyebrows in security circles.
Upon their return on Sunday, the legislators were held briefly for questioning at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) before being released, with indications that they could face a parliamentary probe for leaving the country without official clearance. Six of the parliamentarians are from the border counties of Mandera, three from Wajir and two from Garissa.
They chartered a flight to Somalia capital Mogadishu on Saturday, where they had dinner with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo. Their agenda was not disclosed, although they travelled on diplomatic passports and were treated as State guests.
CHARGED IN COURT
They are Kullow Maalim (Banisa), Ahmed Kolosh (Wajir West), Ibrahim Abdi (Lafey), Rashid Kassim (Wajir East), Mohamed Hire (Lagdera), Omar Maalim (Mandera East), Bashir Abdullahi (Mandera North), Adan Haji (Mandera West), Dr Hassan Dahiye (Daadab), Ahmed Bashane (Tarbaj) and Aden Keynan (Eldas).
Initial reports indicated that the MPs met with members of the Somali National Intelligence Agency (NISA) but one of the leaders, who spoke to the Nation, denied this.
Addressing the press at JKIA, Interior Security Secretary Muriithi Kangi said the MPs would not be charged in court “at least for the time being”.
“What was of concern to the country was how the MPs travelled to a foreign country without clearance and on a matter whose agenda was not clear to the government,” said Mr Kangi. The incident came as Kenya and Somalia traded accusations over interference.
The Nation has learnt that Kenya is protesting what it calls Somalia’s “fabricated” accusations of internal interference.
In a strongly-worded protest note to Mogadishu, Nairobi says it supports Somalia’s peace bid, but will not accept to be used to settle its neighbour’s political games.
“Kenya rejects the unwarranted and invalid allegations made by the Federal Government of Somalia and takes great exception to the fabricated indictments of interfering in Somalia’s internal affairs.
These baseless accusations are part of a growing and persistent pattern of ill intent to use Kenya as a scapegoat and tool to justify unfulfilled legitimate and social demands in Somalia and for political mileage,” states the note seen by the Nation.
“Kenya will not accept to be used in that manner… Kenya considers the accusations to be an insincere attempt by the Federal Government of Somalia to create artificial fissures in the relations between the two countries for short-term political expediency. These efforts have at times escalated to threats to Kenya’s security....”
Kenya’s concerns on its national security arose from comments last month by the Gedo region Deputy Governor Abdi Moalimu, who threatened to mobilise SNA troops to invade the country.
Despite their release, the Nation has learnt that the MPs may not be off the hook just yet.
Their secret trip may be headed for investigations by the relevant committee of the National Assembly that will come up with specific recommendations to the relevant investigative agencies, such as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).
On Sunday, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi confirmed that the MPs did not seek his clearance before travelling to a country that has become hostile, going by the pronouncements of her senior government officials and the threat of Al-Shabaab.
“I was only told about it yesterday [Sunday] but they did not seek permission or even inform me as required,” Mr Muturi told the Nation.
According to Standing Order 260 of the National Assembly, members travelling outside Kenya, whether in an official or a private capacity, shall give to the Speaker a written notice to that effect, indicating the destination intended to be visited.
They are also required to give the dates of the intended travel and period of absence from Kenya and their email, telephone contact, postal or physical address during the period of absence from Kenya.
The information submitted under this Standing Order shall be kept in a register that the Clerk shall maintain for that purpose and shall not be disclosed to any person without the permission of the Speaker.
If brought to the House, whether through a petition by an MP or any member of the public, the matter will be investigated by the Powers and Privileges Committee of the House chaired by the Speaker.
The import of the probe will be to establish whether the MPs violated the privileges accorded to them by the State.
If found culpable by the recommendations of the committee and if adopted by the House, charges of treason, which essentially means siding with a State at war with Kenya or espionage — spying for a foreign nation — may be preferred against them.
Mandera North MP Bashir Abdullahi earlier on told the Nation the legislators had travelled on a “security mission”.
“It is true we are in Mogadishu. We came here for the simple reason of the insecurity that has affected our region, we needed to talk to Somalia authorities to help find a solution,” he said.
Mr Bashir, a retired soldier, said the group met the Federal Government of Somalia. “We arrived in Mogadishu on Saturday and, after lunch, we met President Farmaajo who was a person of interest to us in this visit,” he said.
The Nation, however, learnt that the mission was not officially communicated to protocol officials at the National Assembly or the Foreign Ministry.
Neither Kenya’s Ambassador to Mogadishu Lucas Tumbo nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi knew of the visit.
As is tradition, when MPs travel to a foreign country, the local Kenyan diplomatic mission must be told as MPs are State officers.
A diplomat in Nairobi told the Nation that no communication or agenda on the visit was shared.
The note comes barely hours after police briefly detained and later on released 11 MPs at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi moments after they landed from Mogadishu.
It was a response to Somalia’s own accusation of Nairobi, but it came in the aftermath of the politicians travelling on a secret mission to talk about a public security issue that is routinely handled by the executive.
While MPs may travel as private citizens, meeting a foreign President is not and must be the arrangement of protocol officers, a diplomat in Nairobi explained.
But more curious was the fact that the MPs travelled on the invitation of the Somali National Security Intelligence Agency Fahad Yasin. And left the country on a chartered flight, paid for by Mogadishu. While in Mogadishu, they lodged on the premises of NISA, suggesting the mission was more a Mogadishu affair than a Kenyan one.
Later on Saturday, they were hosted to dinner in Villa Somalia, the residence of the Somali President.
Officially, Mr Abdullahi said the MPs deliberated on safeguarding Gedo Region that has been used as an entry point by Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, into Kenya.
“It is known that the Jubbaland forces and other forces in Somalia have not taken full control of the Gedo region leading to increased cases of insecurity in the North-Eastern region,” the MP argued.
But this argument came as Somalia publicly accused Kenya of interfering in its internal matters and violating its territorial integrity.
In the Gedo region, part of Jubbaland federal state, the Somali National Army has recently been deployed ostensibly to guard the border but to actually fight off Jubbaland security forces, Kenya’s known allies.
If the mission was to seek security cooperation, then Somalia’s own sentiments contradicted it.
Mr Abukar Dahir Osman, the Somali Ambassador to the UN, had, in fact, said his government had run out of diplomatic channels in engaging with Kenya and suggested his country could report Nairobi to the UN Security Council.
“Kenya continues to be a destabilising force for Somalia. Kenya’s continuous encroachment into Somalia’s border areas outrightly undermines our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he told the UN Security Council sitting on Thursday, referring to the border squabbles.
“If these aforementioned actions do not immediately cease, we will invoke the United Nations Charter, Article 35, and we will bring our case against Kenya’s breach of our sovereignty … to the UN Security Council.”
The said article allows a member state to bring any dispute or situation likely to endanger international security, to the attention of the UN Security Council.
Kenya will on Monday be submitting a response to the Somali envoy’s claim to the UN Security Council and Nairobi will now accuse Mogadishu of using local agents in Kenya to destabilise the country when the UN Security Council opens sessions on Monday afternoon.
Were the MPs now anti-Kenyan tools by Mogadishu? Mr Omar Maalim, another of the MPs, had last week touched off a spark when he asked why Kenya was hosting a fugitive from Jubbaland, Adinur Abdirashid Janan, wanted by Mogadishu for alleged human rights crimes. Janan had reportedly fled a house arrest in Mogadishu.
The MPs, however, said their travel was based on directives issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta in their recent State House meeting in Nairobi.
“President Kenyatta asked us to find a solution to the current insecurity in North-Eastern and we felt we should start with Mogadishu which can help us close all security loopholes,” Abdullahi said, referring to the incessant Shabaab attacks in the area.
“We are good neighbours and we urged Somalia to support Kenya get a seat in the Security Council which will help improve the situation,” he said.
“We were there as a bridge between Kenya and Somalia on the maritime boundary dispute and we urged Somalia's administration to tone down on counter-accusations but find an amicable solution for a mutual relationship,” he said.
The MP said the trip was only an initiative of MPs from North-Eastern and that the three governors were in the picture and they did not need clearance from Nairobi.
“We have a parliamentary diplomatic arrangement which we used to come but still a top office in Nairobi is aware of the same,” he said.
He vehemently denied that the legislators met the Somali National Intelligence Agency (NISA) as claimed in a section of the media.
“We came to meet Somalia President on issues affecting North-Eastern that come from Gedo region and we met nobody else, we shall stop at nothing in finding a solution to the current situation,” he said.
The Kenya Defence Forces are a part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, meant to fight Al-Shabaab. But the relationship between the two countries has been lukewarm since Farmaajo took power in February 2017. Mogadishu also sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice over a maritime boundary dispute. The case is to be determined this June.
Reports by Aggrey Mutambo, Manase Otsialo and David Mwere - Daily Nation.