Kenya-Somalia relations must be kept alive
- Despite the tension between Kenya and Somalia, President Uhuru Kenyatta is doing the right thing by committing to help the country rise from its conflict and stabilise.
- Both from the perspective of moral responsibility and prudent foreign relations, we must do all that we can to assist Somalia.
East Africa has a history of being a tumultuous place. Collectively, we have suffered the slave trade, colonialism, inter-ethnic clashes, dictatorships, and famine.
But it is also a majestic place of great natural beauty, wildlife and culture. It is a region with immense potential and good natured people. Kenya has gone through many hard periods but thankfully, we are finally in good shape. Some of our neighbours are not quite there yet, and it is our responsibility to help them out to the best of our ability.
As the old adage goes, “We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our neighbours”. And so despite the tension between Kenya and Somalia due to the maritime border dispute, President Uhuru Kenyatta is doing the right thing by committing to help the country rise from its conflict and stabilise.
Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba recently travelled to Mogadishu to reaffirm Kenya’s commitment to state-building in Somalia at the Somalia Partnership Forum (SPF).
In 2004, Somalia’s first transitional president Abdullahi Ahmed came to Nairobi to set up his government, and was assisted generously. According to Namwamba, nothing has changed: “Somalia -Kenya ties are steeped in a history of shared destiny. We owe it to our people to keep the ties alive”.
For the past several months, Kenya and Somalia have been sparring over maritime border due to oil in the area. Uhuru’s overture to settle the dispute between neighbours was rebuffed by his Somali counterpart, who prefers to have it settled in the ICJ. Uhuru graciously agreed to take it to court in November without letting it affect the rest of our relationship.
Despite this, the two presidents have shown great cooperation on other important issues.
Participants at the SPF include representatives from the UN, AU and EU.
Many of them are donor countries and all are interested in Somalia’s political reforms, economic development and security. Some of this will happen via generous humanitarian aid, and some will happen as part of a concerted effort between Somalia and the international community.
The goal of the SPF was to evaluate progress thus far and to set a plan going forward as the country struggles to regenerate itself.
With al-Shabaab attacks threatening civilians on a regular basis, it is imperative that Kenya continues its active role within the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) coalition. The threat of extremist militancy is real also at home, and the courageous men and women of the KDF work to protect us from it on a daily basis.
Recently, Amisom was dealt a blow as the EU cut its funding by 20 per cent. This makes Kenya’s role even more important. We must show the Western world that Africa is not helpless.
Because of the negative image that the international community has of the state of affairs in Africa, Kenya has even more opportunity to show that this is not the case.
This can begin in Somalia.
While help in the form of advice, manpower and funding is more than welcome, it cannot be used as a way for countries outside of the region to shape the Somalia state at peacetime. The imposition of culturally inappropriate practices and forms of governance will not last more than a few years at best.
Therefore, East Africa must be in charge of its own destiny.
That’s why I support Uhuru’s decision to keep the maritime row separate from the full scope of our diplomatic relations.
Bwire Mugolla comments on topical issues. E-mail: