Somalia has resumed diplomatic relations with Kenya with which it severed all ties in December 2020 following a series of destabilizing activities.
This rapprochement was facilitated by the Qatari emissary, Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, who visited the region recently and met with leaders from both nations.
The two neighboring countries had stormy relations since 2009 when Kenya claimed the southern Somali Sea, a potentially gas-rich area. Ever since, Kenya’s presence in Somalia has been implicated in countless aggressive anti-Somali activities.
In 2011, Kenya invaded the bordering Somali region of Jubaland with the French army assistance and US blessings – as it is the case for major military intervention carried by allies – and few months later, the African Union (AU) integrated the invading army in the AMISOM, European-funded African forces in Somalia.
In 2014, president Hassan Sheikh Mahamud took the Somali Sea case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to delimit the frontier between the two countries as Parliament refused to acknowledge a dispute on the Somalia Sea.
In 2016, Somalia temporarily stopped the importation of Khat, a local euphoric plant, from Kenya after a Kenyan official visited Somaliland, the Northern Somali region who self-proclaimed independent, and offered to recognize it if Kenyan Khat is allowed there.
In February 2019, Kenya expelled the Somali ambassador and recalled its own representative accusing Somalia for auctioning blocks included in the maritime case in front of the ICJ. Kenya re-established ties on November of the same year.
Kenyan Defence Forces in Jubaland has been involved in illegal charcoal trade, arms smuggling, prostitution ring, rape, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions and even funding Al-Shabab insurgents.
Kenya who once used Ahmed Madobe’s Ras Kamboni Militia as a proxy before the invasion, strengthened his takeover of Jubaland and went as far as preventing in 2020 the federal government from ousting him after it was acknowledged he rigged the regional state elections to get re-elected.
Last year, at the height of the COVID pandemic, the Somali government stopped Khat imports from Kenya to stem the flow of movement of people and non essential goods but was maintained even after international flights resumed due to a growing diplomatic row between the two neighbours.
Somali government accused Kenya for overstepping its AMISOM mandate by making Jubaland a vassal state and undermining the central government’s relations with this region in order to deal directly with that regional administration.
After Kenya protected Ahmed Madobe, Somali government using its sovereign authority changed the Air traffic rules and stopped all direct flights between Kismayo and Nairobi.
The souring relations took many forms over the years and reached a boiling point in December 2020 when Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan president, hosted the renegade region of Somaliland. Somalia severed all diplomatic ties with Kenya, cutting short of declaring its soldiers operating under AMISOM flag unwelcome.
Kenya however continued smuggling Khat through the southern frontier and flights in and out of Kismayo despite Somalia air traffic rules and in total disregard on international rules over the sovereignty.
The last few months Kenya persistently pursued a policy of provocation by hosting and arming militia loyal to Ahmed Madobe and led by Abdirashid Janan who, after many attempts to snatch Jubaland’s Gedo region from the Somali National Army forces, surrendered to the government last March.
Kenya also supported opposition to president Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo and use all its diplomatic weigh and friends to put pressure on Farmajo’s administration and sabotaging Somali government effort to find solutions to its political crisis.
In an interview with Shabelle TV, the president clearly pointed a finger to Kenya for unrest within Somalia and international pressure coming even from a friendly country, like Qatar, who wants the Sea case be settled out-of-court.
In the face of all the efforts Kenya put to undermine Somalia’s sovereignty, illegally exploit its resources and sponsored violent groups, Somalia has come under pressure from the international community to treat Kenya lightly and even compromise on the maritime case.
Those friends of Kenya have their selfish interests as many of their oil companies (i.e. Total, QP, Tullow Oil, ENI, Equinor, Chevron…) illegally acquired blocks from maritime area claimed by Kenya. Qatar Petroleum itself has a total interest of 25% in three deep-water exploration blocks off Kenya from operator Eni SPA and Total SA.
In light of past behavior, it is quite possible that Kenya will continue to interfere in Somalia’s domestic politics as long as its army has its boots on the ground and the ICJ’s sea demarcation does not favor Kenya. On the other hand, Somali disunity, instability and dependence on foreign aid make the country vulnerable to any foreign meddling.
If a strong corruption-free administration with a strong mandate is elected in the coming months, there are chances Kenya would rethink its aggressive foreign policy towards its northern neighbor. Until then, the troubled relationship between the two countries would continue unabated.