20.7.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
President Hassan Sheikh’s trip to Nairobi has been by far the most controversial trip he has taken so far as it caused a frenzy on social media following the signing of an agreement.
Indeed, Hassan Sheikh travelled to Kenya at a time where Somali public opinion of the Kenyatta regime has been at an all-time low. In fact, Somali-Kenyan relations have been at an all-time low since Somalia initially cut relations with Kenya in 2020 for what Mogadishu described as blatant interference of Somali internal affairs in Jubaland.
The newly elected President and his government have attempted to take a different approach to relations with Kenya, as the President campaign was built upon the phrase, Somalia at peace with the world. It was on such a basis that the President decided to diplomatically re-approach Kenya. Indeed, Hassan Sheikh continuously condemned the policy decisions taken by former President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo regarding a staunch and aggressive response to Nairobi.
It was the day following the inauguration ceremony of President Hassan Sheikh that a member of the Kenyan delegation, Agricultural Secretary Peter Munya announced that Somalia and Kenya reached an understanding regarding miraa trade and an agreement would be signed at the IGAD meeting only to be delayed.
This discussion would form a key element of the agreement signed between the neighbouring governments in Nairobi last week.
So following years of tensions and conflict, the rift between Somalia and Kenya has seems to have been brought to halt, at least temporarily.
Somalia’s Negotiation Demands?
Well, it is clear Kenya gained the most as all of Nairobi’s demands were met by Mogadishu while it remains unclear what exactly Somalia’s demands were at the negotiating table.
Let’s take a look at elements to this agreement:
- The biggest elephant in the room is the return of Miraa to Somalia. It is reported that Miraa traders in Kenya were losing close to $500,000 per day due to economic sanction imposed by Mogadishu.
This is a major victory for the Kenyatta regime as Nairobi has successfully restored a major element of its local economic.
Indeed, the agreement does highlight fish which is expected to be exchanged for the Miraa. However, one has to realise two points:
- Somalia already has a similar agreement with Ethiopia which has not been the most successful. Somalia does not have a sophisticated fishing industry.
- Kenya has a long coastline of its own rich in resources. It does not actually require Somali fish. Therefore, the trade will always be heavily balanced towards Kenya.
In fact, Ethiopia is a landlocked country which makes it more likely for Addis Ababa to purchase Somali fish in comparison to Kenya which has a long coast of its own.
The reality is, Kenya does not need much from Somalia.
For Hassan Sheikh and other critics of the trade deal with Addis Ababa, one would expect that his administration would ban khat importation from Ethiopia and altogether end the trade of this drug which continues to rot Somali society to the core, particularly the youth.
Additionally, the Miraa conundrum was a major leverage for Somalia to gain more from this new deal which seems to be underutilised.
- Another major element to the agreement was the return of Kenya Airways to Somalia.
Again this is another major victory for Kenya, why?
Two major points:
- The reality is that more people will be flying to Nairobi from Mogadishu than Nairobi to Mogadishu, meaning that this will increase business and tourist travel to Kenya.
- It is a Kenyan airline that has absolutely no gain for Somalia as an airline aside from increased travel from Kenya.
In fact, the agreement does not even make it any easier for an average Somali to travel to Kenya. A Somali national attempting to fly Kenya Airways to Kenya would have to wait 10 days to receive a visa and pay $300.
- Finally, the sharing of intel between Somalia and Kenya. This will involve NISA sharing intelligence with Kenya regarding events taking place in Somalia and vice versa
Again, I fail to understand how Somalia benefits from this intelligence sharing as it is intelligence sharing about Somalia. So, aside from some minor intelligence Kenya might gather from Jubaland or within its own borders, NISA does not actually need Kenya to gather intelligence about its own jurisdiction.
A Deal with an Outgoing President
The reality is that whatever deal the President signs in Nairobi is not actually guaranteed as a new administration with new policies will take over Nairobi in less than 4 weeks.
So the question becomes, why should the President sign deals with an Outgoing President that is not even running for office again?
Kenyatta faced major political defeats in Somalia over the past two years. His pledge to enforce the 2009 MoU signed in Nairobi and a victory at the ICJ was completely derailed by the previous Somali administration. This was a major loss and embarrassment for Kenyatta, hence his continuous rejection of the verdict in favour of a negotiation. Kenya still refuses to acknowledge the result of the court despite the President’s spokesman claiming at a press conference that point one of the agreement outlines Kenya’s respect for Somalia’s ‘territorial integrity’.
The definition of ‘territorial integrity’ is heavily hinged upon a joint understanding of what Somalia and Kenya’s territories are. Kenya has consistently argued that the portion of Somali waters in Jubaland belongs to Kenya and it rejects the ICJ verdict. Unfortunately, Kenya has not made it clear in this agreement that it has retracted previous official government position.
Regardless, if this is true, I hope Kenya is reversing its actions in Jubaland and propping up Ahmed Madobe as well its actions in Somaliland. But, that is just hopeful thinking.
The previous Somali administration consistently blocked any form of trade as a political chokehold on an aspect of Kenya’s economic due to Kenya’s continuous violation of Somali sovereignty in Jubaland and Somaliland.
We can literally see this recently when Kenyatta invited Somaliland Representative to an Ambassadorial meeting in Nairobi in which Somali Ambassador, Mohamud Tarsan walked out in protest. A move Nairobi has yet to apologise for.
We can literally see indiscriminate bombing of Gedo in which civilians continue to be killed and private property continues to be destroyed.
I shall leave you all with this question:
- What was Somalia’s demands at this negotiation and what was actually gained aside from the vague campaign slogan Somalia is at peace with Kenya?