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Kenya and Somalia: Love or dependency?

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his Somali counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

by Samira Sawlani
Monday, August 05, 2013

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In his Presidential inauguration speech Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his country has “invested immense diplomatic energy and resources in the quest for a stable Somalia,” and will support the African Union peace process there because “a stable and prosperous Somalia is in the interest of all nations.” Kenya’s commitment to its neighbour has stood strong in recent years. However currently relations can perhaps be described as “a conversation between two veiled women, on the outside they observe every form of friendly etiquette, yet beneath the burkha they are scowling.”

The level to which Kenyan involvement is altruistic or a result of the insecurity which the Somali conflict has created in Kenya is perhaps debatable, regardless of this, 4,040 Kenyan troops are currently stationed in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM.) 

The presence of these troops, controversial reports regarding their alleged conduct, Kenyan government plans to repatriate some 600,000 Somali refugees along with Somalia now being open for business are all issues which threaten to affect the delicate relationship between these two countries.

Just last week, on the eve of the Great Lakes Summit, Kenya's Director in the Office of the Great Lakes Region (OGLR), Ken Vitisia stated “Kenya will also seek support of a common regional position on Somalia.” He also went on to say that Nairobi's involvement in Somalia has been a burden, "both in terms of refugees and our presence militarily. It is very important that we find a common ground on this problem."

The Kenyan AMISOM troops have been deployed in the Somali port city of Kismayo, a location which has been at the centre of controversy and bloodshed in recent months.

At the beginning of July a leaked document addressed to the African Union from the Foreign Ministry of Somalia asked for the “immediate deployment of an AMISOM multinational force given the political volatility of the situation in Kismayo and the incompetence shown by the AMISOM commander in the area that resulted in poor judgement.” The Somali government alleged that Kenyan forces in Kismayo had failed to remain neutral in the conflict for control of the region between clans, choosing to side with militia from the Sheikh Madobe led Raskamboni Brigade. In essence the allegation suggests that the Kenyans are trying to create an autonomous buffer state of Jubaland by assisting a warlord who would work in their favour to take control.
Perhaps this is why Heads of State at the AMISOM summit held in Kampala over the weekend concluded that The Somali city of Kismayo "should be handed over" to the central government”

According to Emmanuel Kisiangani Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi ‘Kenya, finds itself in a difficult position, having played a central role in Somalia's various peace processes but needing the support of the Ras Kamboni Movement in its intervention in Somalia against al-Shabaab. The implication of this is that Kenya cannot easily disregard its ally, particularly given the role each is playing in pacifying southern Somalia. However, this is seen as a betrayal of the same national government that it helped to create.’

Aside from this, a damning report released by the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea has done little to encourage the confidence of the Somali government in their Kenyan counterparts.  The report accuses Kenyan troops of partaking in the illegal export of charcoal from Kismayo, a business which is known to be a primary source of income for Al- Shabaab.  According to the report, despite the ban by the UN Security Council and the Somali government on charcoal exports from Somalia “the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) Madobe and his Ras Kamboni forces took the unilateral decision to begin the export of charcoal from Kismayo port” a claim which has been incessantly denied by the KDF.

While the war of words regarding events in Kismayo continues, the governments and private sectors in both countries are very much aware of the gold mine that is Somalia.

In May 2013 The Somali Reconstruction and Investment Conference (SORIC) was held in Nairobi, the aim of which was ‘to encourage the business community, especially from Kenya, to get into Somalia.’

According to Anna Bowden, Associate Director of Shuraako, (an organisation which works to develop the business and investment climate in Somalia through coordinating between government, private sector, and civil society.) “For those interested in high-risk and high-reward investments, there are a large number of benefits to investing in Somalia now. Somalia boasts a coastline of over 2,000 miles, which is home to immense marine resources. On shore, recent discoveries of oil, coal, and gas are attracting the interest of a number of investors, as is the recent construction and real estate building boom in Mogadishu.”

Almost all sectors require development in Somalia – presenting a great opportunity for all kinds of investors. Somalia is full of success stories. Many Somali and international investors have shown incredible resilience and strength at overcoming challenging obstacles in Somalia to generate very successful businesses in the region. Take, for example the Coca Cola bottling plant in Somaliland, which is valued at over $20 million. Or the incredible work of Dahabshiil, the Somali money transfer company, who is the largest provider of remittance services to the Somali diaspora, and has thousands of branches in over 150 countries. A number of Kenyan private sector companies have already put in motion their plans to capitalise on the available opportunities. For example, Kenya based company Athi River Steel Plant plans within half a year to export 300 tonnes a month of steel and building materials to Somalia.

A second conference in Nairobi organised by the Somali Economic Forum (SEF) showcased the various opportunities available in the IT, financial, infrastructure, healthcare and natural resources sector for investors in Somalia.

Both the above conferences were supported by governments of both countries illustrating that ultimately they recognise the mutual benefits which are to be had in the rebuilding of Somalia and this may be reason enough to keep relations sweet.

UK based East Africa Analyst Mohammed Irshaad states “There are a lot of underlying tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu. The Somali government is careful to not let its people feel that the Kenyans have come in to take over.  The Kenyans know that their presence in Somalia is absolutely essential in the security of their own country, particularly in terms of their economic situation. However, they do not have a strong enough understanding of the internal politics of Somalia and causing controversy will only aid the efforts of Al Shabaab and rebel groups.”

Furthermore, according to Mr Irshaad this is not the time for the Kenyan government to fall out with Somalia, “Nairobi is adamant that Somali refugees must go home, at the same time they need to keep peace with the Somali refugees and diaspora within the country so that they are not recruited by militant groups particularly in the Northern part of the country where oil discoveries have been made.  More importantly, much of Somalia, particularly the Jubbaland region is both economically and geopolitically strategic. It is fertile, rich in industry and resources and Kenya will want sugar coated relations with Mogadishu in order to hold a presence in that part of the country.”

Whichever shape the regional position on Somalia takes, it is evident that the dependency between Kenya and Somalia is not a one way love affair; it is a dependency which runs both ways.

Samira Sawlani


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