Kenya’s never-ending gaffes on Somaliland

Wednesday December 06 2023
A street in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

A street in Hargeisa, Somaliland. PHOTO | AFP


Kenya’s Senate Speaker Amason Jeffah Kingi became the latest senior government official to goof on the one-Somalia policy, naming the breakaway Somaliland region as a republic with which Kenya “enjoy ties that stretch back to its days under British colonial rule, which bequeathed them almost similar systems and structures of governance at independence.”

Kingi said after meeting with Mohamed Ahmed Mohamoud, the head of the Liaison Office for Somaliland in Nairobi, to whom he referred as “ambassador to Kenya”.

“We explored new avenues for collaboration and partnerships between our governments and their various institutions, including parliaments of the two countries,” Kingi said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Tuesday. 

The statement however has since been deleted with no apology from Kingi.

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“These relations have in recent decades been deepened and strengthened through bilateral engagements that have yielded great benefits to the citizens.”


Somaliland says it broke away from Somalia in 1991 following the fall of the Siad Barre dictatorship to war in Somalia. But neither Kenya nor any other sovereign state in the world has ever recognised Somaliland as independent. In fact, Kenya has followed AU's position on the matter; referring the dispute to Somalis themselves to decide the fate of their country.

In public statements and official letters, Somaliland, which runs its own government, military, currency and other departments, often calls itself ‘Republic of Somaliland.’ Kingi took the cue saying: “These relations have in recent decades been deepened and strengthened through bilateral engagements that have yielded great benefits to the citizens.”

“We deliberated on the need to enhance trade between Kenya and Somaliland by facilitating easy movement of people and commodities between the two countries, which can be greatly bolstered by allowing direct flights between Nairobi and Hargeisa,” he said, promising to take up the matter with the relevant arms of government.

Officially though, Nairobi has stuck to the One Somalia policy and has routinely clarified/corrected the goofs by government officials that it only has one ambassador from Somalia in Nairobi.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei suggested that Mr Kingi had strayed and confirming that only parliament has a role to oversee foreign relations as performed by the executive.

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“It is Kenya’s established, unchanging foreign policy, consistent with the AU that only the Federal Republic of Somalia is the recognised state entity,” he said.

“Somaliland, a region within the Federal Republic of Somalia, has a liaison office for commercial purposes in Nairobi. The office is not an embassy.”

In October, the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs said that the status of Somaliland remains a part of Somalia, clarifying the recent appointment of Abdi Weli Muhamad Hussein as Consul-General to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

Mr Hussein had been initially named on a list of new ambassadors to be posted abroad as heads of missions, raising confusion as to whether Kenya had departed from an age-old policy. Mr Hussein’s name was not submitted to parliament for vetting, however, as is tradition for new ambassadors before they are formally deployed.

In a note verbale to the Embassy of Somalia in Nairobi, the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs indicated the policy hadn’t changed and that Hargeisa will remain a consulate.

“With reference to the reorganisation of Kenya's government made on October 4, 2023 and the appointing of Abdi Weli Muhamad Hussein to Hargeisa, Somaliland (the Ministry) has the honour to inform that the status of Abdi Weli is that of Consul-General,” it said on October 26.

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“The ministry wishes to reaffirm Kenya’s unwavering recognition of Federal Republic of Somalia and to further clarify that it only acknowledges Somaliland as a regional government within Somalia.”

Somaliland has a liaison office in Nairobi, and Kenya, like Ethiopia and Djibouti, runs a consulate in Hargeisa which it opened in 2019 after Mogadishu nodded to it.

While Kenya has repeatedly voiced support for Mogadishu, the Somaliland issue has been problematic in the past for government officials.

In December 2021, Somalia cut ties with Kenya protesting at Kenya’s hosting of Somaliland leader Muse Bihi Abdi, terming it as interference. The relations would later be restored six months later.

But Somalia’s Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Nur ‘Tarzan’ walked out of a state house event last year after a Somaliland flag was placed among envoys of countries invited to the function. Kenya would later apologise for the incident and vowed support for Somalia.