Kenya and Somalia’s Diplomatic Row

The politician Musalia Mudavadi (former vice president of Kenya) appealed in February 2019 to the international community to urgently act on the looming border row between Kenya and Somalia to keep it from escalating.

The tension between the two countries stems from the conflict between Kenya and Somalia over oil and gas blocks in disputed territorial areas. These were allegedly auctioned by Somalia. Because of this, Somali ambassador Mohamuod Ahmed Nur was expelled by the Kenyan government.  

This disagreement is likely to have a negative impact on security, trade, free movement of people.

TRADE AND FREE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE

Somalia is the largest market for Kenyan-grown Miraa (or Khat – a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa containing a substance that raises levels of activity in the body). Many cargo planes full of Miraa depart for Somalia on a daily basis. Kenyan farmers around the Mount Kenya regions of Meru, Embu, Mbeere and Tharaka Nithi reap the benefits of this trade which is valued at millions of shillings. If this trade relationship were to be damaged, it would massively impact Kenya’s economy.

Kenya hosts the largest Somalian refugee population in its Daadab refugee camp. Previous repatriation efforts have been quite unsuccessful due to the security situation in Somalia. Al-Shabaab remains the main threat to the country’s security. There has also been an increase in reported activities by pro-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) elements in Mogadishu. It is in Somalia’s best interests that the relationship with Kenya remains manageable as it would be easy for Kenya to take advantage of vulnerable Somalis in its country.

An escalation of the diplomatic row could change life significantly for thousands of Somalian nationals in Kenya. The Eastleigh area of Nairobi, which is home to thousands of Somali businesses, is also a popular shopping spot for thousands of Kenyans and provides employment opportunities and revenue to the government.

There is a strong likelihood that the situation between the two countries will change should the argument between them escalate.

FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM AND VIOLENT EXTREMISM

To combat the violent extremism from Al-Shabaab (a terrorist group), Kenya and Somalia need to work together to a certain extent.

Given that Al-Shabaab is close to being eliminated by the KDF (Kenya Defence Forces) and AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) troops in Somalia, a lack of cooperation between the two nations could lead the terror group to regroup and strike again.

FRAGILE PEACE AND STABILITY IN SOMALIA

Somalia is still recovering from decades of civil war and hardship that started way back in 1991. Al-Shabaab has worsened the situation by carrying out numerous attacks on key government installations. The KDF forms a significant part of AMISOM troops that provides the much needed support to the country’s security agencies. While the possibility of a continued stay of KDF troops in Somalia is debatable, there is no doubt that they have made tremendous achievements, liberating several towns from the enclave of Al-Shabaab.

With so much at stake, it is in the interest of the two nations to work towards a speedy resolution of the dispute.

Marwin Ramos

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