JABRIL ABDULLE: We come with opportunities, not burdens to East Africa

Monday February 26 2024

Somalia Ambassador to Kenya Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle during an interview at his office in Nairobi, Kenya on February 21, 2024. PHOTO | WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG


Somalia's Ambassador to Kenya Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle reported to duty three months ago. But he has found himself in the middle of a changing arena of relations. Somalia, he says, is choosing to look at the good side of relations and wants to pursue that, including targeting as many as 60,000 expatriates from the neighbourhood to sew up its economy. He spoke with Aggrey Mutambo.

The dispute with Ethiopia over the Somaliland deal has caused fears that diplomacy is being abandoned. What is the chance for dialogue ending the tensions?

It is Ethiopia creating a crisis. Somalia has offered Ethiopia access to its sea for economic use; Somalia has an interest to have its people access the Ethiopian market. There is no question that there is a benefit for us to find or create the most of opportunities for our East African people to improve the economic situation. However, what Ethiopia is now proposing is actually an annexation.

But for us to ensure there is continued regional stability, Somalia has not taken any step. Ethiopian airlines still operates to Somalia; we have not sent their ambassador back to Addis Ababa, and we have not ordered their troops out of Somalia.

Read: Somalia, Ethiopia clash at African Union summit

What is the status of Kenya-Somalia relations, especially after recent turbulent times?


The relationship between Kenya and Somalia is a mature one in the sense that the two countries are going beyond issues of security to trade. President William Ruto and President Hassan Sheikh decided that the two countries have to bury the hatchet.

Under the last regime in Somalia, the relationship between Kenya and Somalia was dicey, difficult at best. Trade had stopped, ambassadors had been recalled… it was a very adversarial relationship. Our relationship is now a partnership that goes beyond formalities.

What does Somalia bring to the EAC?

Somalia is a country of entrepreneurs. It has influential people who are good at business. So, what we bring to the table is our spirit of entrepreneurship. We are a people driven by economics, by trade, and we would like to bring that to East Africa.

The other thing is that Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa, a huge blue economy, which the eight member states of the East African bloc can access. We are also bringing the capacity of Somalis to invest outside their comfort zone.

Read: Somalia: We are ready to do business with East Africans

If you look at most of the East African countries, their integration is via economic links. We are lucky because, without even joining EAC, Somalis had already made inroads into EA countries and they are dominating some sectors in South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.

How is Somalia improving the business environment to attract EAC investments?

The war on Al Shabaab is moving very well. Al Shabaab is a threat to global security. That is why we are using every tool available to fight them. It is not just about Somalia; it is also about defending East Africa as a bloc.

Secondly, we are introducing legislative changes that allow us to immerse into the East African economy, for example, laws on investments are now improved. All legal issues are being addressed by the two houses of Parliament.

We are also opening the Somali airspace. Last week, we launched Kenya Airways direct flights to Mogadishu. It is a huge market as Nairobi is becoming a transit hub.

Many are still sceptical of stability after Atmis departs. Your view?

Atmis / Amisom have been in Somalia for nearly 18 years. They have helped us stand on our feet, helped us solve our internal issues, and some of the soldiers paid the ultimate price for it.

Read: Why Somalia wants another foreign force after ATMIS is done

But I think it came to a time when Somalis have to take their security seriously.

The Somalia government has established a fully functional national army, and the forces are mostly ready. We expect that these will be capable of taking over positions vacated by Atmis. As this will be gradually and systematically done, it will not shock our system. It has been negotiated, discussed, planned by all actors involved.

How does Somalia see the threat of Houthi attacks on Shipping lines in the Red sea?

Somalia is situated at a very important part of the region; it connects Indian Ocean with Red Sea. Some people say Somalia is the vein of sea trade. That is why in the past, piracy off the coast of Somalia affected regional trade.

When Houthis now disrupt global trade, the implication is that it will affect our economy and the other worry so that terrorism activities might increase in our region. We are worried about issues related to terrorism, economic sabotage and Al Shabaab getting more guns and illegal ammunition from Houthis through the sea.

And our only way of defeating Houthis is not an Ethiopian intervention. Ethiopia’s move is actually empowering an environment where Al Shabaab can use Ethiopia’s ‘annexation tool’ as a recruitment tool. We have already seen, last month, Al Shabaab claimed they were recruiting over 5,000 youth because it claimed Somali government was incapable of defending Somali territory. Houthis and Al Shabaab joining hands will have a huge implication beyond Somalia.

Somalia has been notorious for illicit trade and smuggling. How is your government addressing that?

The border with Kenya was closed due to the security and incursion by radical groups. The border is porous and sometimes illicit trade ensued.

But after this time, there is a realisation that in fact the closed border is aiding that illicit trade and there has been a decision taken by both sides that we really have to open the border, for two reasons. One is that we want communities deprived of economic activities to gain opportunities from the trade.

Read: Kenyan trader probed for 'shipping arms to Shabaab'

Opening border can gradually contribute to the opening up of markets and I think it would be positive step that we can use to defeat radicalism. 

Al Shabaab has used the closure of the border to radicalise communities: when you are economically deprived and there is nothing on both sides of the border, militants can take advantage of you. If I have an economic interest to protect, I will fight for it and deny Al Shabaab a chance.

There are those who believe opening the borders will allow al-Shabaab to filter through. We do not agree with that. And there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

There are still doubts though about safety?

Of course, people sometimes question if Somalia is also bringing a security challenge to the table. But I think things are getting better. I would point out that last year, we were the only East African country that had zero debt after all our debts were forgiven by the World Bank and the IMF.

It gave us give us a fresh start and that opens a huge market for East Africa. The other thing is for Somalia, because of the Civil war, our hospitality industry had been decimated.

So now also keep in mind that the entire economy or sector will be dominated by East Africans. So, we are bringing a huge market and opportunity as seen by the number of international hotels coming in. So now they will have access to large financial institutions for the first time, with billions of dollars being invested and who benefits from these if not our East Africans next door.