Somalia’s pre-elections heat shows up in Mogadishu-Nairobi dispute

Tuesday December 22 2020
Kenyan soldiers.

Kenyan soldiers in Mandera town, northern Kenya, on April 23, 2020. North Eastern Regional Coordinator Nick Ndalama said security forces will now respond to any provocation from Somalia security forces. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Somalia’s electioneering heat may have fuelled the continued spat between Nairobi and Mogadishu, and severing of ties.

On December 15, Somalia announced it was cutting ties with Kenya for “constantly interfering” with its internal affairs.

According to Information Minister Osman Dubbe, who made the announcement, Somalia was responding to “the political abuse and deliberate interference of Kenya in Somalia independence.”

The actual abuse was not stated in the 1.58am press briefing. But it added to continual mistrust between Mogadishu and Nairobi over political connections to Somalia’s federal member states like Jubbaland, whose leader Ahmed Madobe has threatened to stop elections in his state unless Somali National Army troops are pulled out of Gedo.

Taken in the middle of an election campaign, however, some experts say President Mohamed Farmaajo was using an existing tiff to divert attention from local political crises.

“President Farmaajo rode to power in 2017 on the back of fierce anti-Ethiopian sentiment. He now seeks to retain power by riding on the crest of a withering anti-Kenyan campaign,” said Shadrack Kuyo, senior policy advisor at the Horn Centre in Nairobi.


Somalia’s decision came as Somaliland leader Muse Bihi toured Nairobi in a three-day official visit. Self-governing but unrecognised internationally since 1991, Somaliland remains a disputed territory with Somalia laying claim to it.

Talks on the future of Somaliland with Mogadishu often end in a stalemate as each side refuses to compromise.

Some experts say the severed ties had been exaggerated for political gain.

Abdallah Ibrahim, the director of the East Africa Centre for Research and Strategic Studies said Somalia’s protest had been suspect as President Bihi had earlier this year and last year visited both Ethiopia and Djibouti, where he “got higher state reception than in Kenya but Mogadishu did not raise any objection.”

Mr Bihi’s visit saw Kenya and Somaliland agree on direct flights and for Nairobi to set up a consulate by March 2021. The EastAfrican, however, learnt that Nairobi had first notified Mogadishu of intention to open a consulate in Somaliland three months ago and got an okay.

In Nairobi, though, the optics angered Mogadishu. Mr Bihi was welcomed at the airport by Cabinet Administrative Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ababu Namwamba. He was accompanied by Peter Munya, the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, as escort of honour. There was, however, no military parade as is tradition for visiting heads of state.

Blowing hot and cold

Yasin Haji Mohamoud, Somaliland Foreign and International Cooperation Minister told The East African that Kenya’s position in the region could help his territory push its agenda for recognition.

Mr Mohamoud said Kenya is influential within the African Union, the East African Community and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

Somalia has since pushed the agenda to Igad in a summit due December 20 to discuss Kenya’s alleged interference. But observers in Nairobi think the issue could calm down once elections are over.

“Farmaajo is playing to the public gallery and I can see that Kenya has no problem with Somalia and Somalia has no problem with Kenya,” said Brig-Gen (Rtd) Ahamed Mohamed, a senior advisor on defence and security at the Horn Institute. “No individual state in the Horn has been insulated from the other’s problems, regardless of distance. Farmaajo is trying to control the impact of all regional influences,” he told a forum on Kenya-Somalia relations in Nairobi on Thursday.

To him, they could normalise relations as soon as the vote is cast in February. A policy brief by the Africa Policy Institute said the spat may not sweep away Somalia’s political challenges. Farmaajo has bickered with opponents who argue the list of poll officials recently appointed is packed with spies and cronies. And while Mogadishu refuses to budge on reviewing the composition of poll teams, Somalia has missed nearly all deadlines it set back in September, which would have seen senators elected last week and MPs on the final week of December.

Kenya appears to play down the severity of Mogadishu severing links with Nairobi, with the government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna, maintaining that the two countries have a lot in common and efforts are being put to resolve anything that could undermine the relations.