Mogadishu: Is cutting ties with Nairobi sustainable?

APA-Mogadishu (Somalia)

Mogadishu on Tuesday stunned the diplomatic world after announcing it was severing ties with Kenya, but is this sustainable given how culturally and geographically intertwined these neighbours are?

Mogadishu has long expressed its dissatisfaction with Nairobi for allegedly interfering in its internal affairs, an accusation Kenya has repeatedly denied.

However Somalia's president Mohamed Farmajo took this displeasure a notch further by expelling Kenyan diplomats from the country and ordering their Somali counterparts in Kenya to return home with immediate effect.

Nairobi's response has been measured, ordering its diplomats to return to Mogadishu.

Diplomatic sources in Nairobi say Mogadishu's decision to cut ties has not been communicated to the right Kenyan authorities who are therefore not taking it seriously.

In fact a commentary has appeared on the Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper appearing to downplay the diplomatic tiff between the two Horn of Africa neighbours.

It says far from a tit-for-tat response, Nairobi has written to Mogadishu demanding clarification on the decision.

Describing the move as ill-advised, the newspaper quotes Macharia Munene, a History Professor at the United States International University Africa as saying:"It is not a wise thing to do because it ranks just low declaring war".

Munene says President Farmajo may have reelection in mind by attempting to rally Somalis on his side and divert attention from the burning issues of the day in his own country.

Farmajo is under pressure from the Somali opposition to review a controversial list of officials entrusted with organizing the country's next elections.

Some of those appointees are accused of being Farmajo lackeys by his critics who have threatened to boycott the national polls if these "shadowy figures" are allowed to continue in their roles.

Farmajo is also struggling to win over Ahmed Madobe, the president of Jubbaland, a man whose cozy relations with Nairobi are well known in Somalia. 

In November, Madobe returned home from a sojourn in Kenya with a threat to boycott the elections if Somali national troops are not withdrawn from the region of Gedo.

Mogadishu's reaction to Madobe's call was swift, accusing Nairobi of exerting pressure on him to undermine Somalia's electoral process. 

And then there is the perennial matter of Somaliland, a self-governing territory of strife-torn Somalia striving to be recognized as a sovereign state.

Mogadishu maintains its claim to the territory which had not been under its direct control since the fall of federal president Siad Barrie in 1991.

The timing of the decision by Somalia to cut diplomatic relations with Kenya offers a gleamer into one of many reasons why Mogadishu feels aggrieved.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has been hosting Somaliland president Muse Bihi, an overture which some observers say had incurred President Farmajo's wrath.

Mogadishu sees Kenya-Somaliland relations as a direct affront to its right to the territory which has all the trappings of an independent state except international recognition which it craves.

Somaliland has been maintaining a liaison office in Nairobi for many years and this does not look like changing despite Farmajo's attempt to achieve this with his diplomatic snub of Kenya, analysts say.

Some argue that singling out Kenya offers a poor way of masking the actions of other countries active in Somalia such as those in the Gulf.

They say, those countries have been bribing politicians in Somalia with the aim of gaining influence in the country.

So where is all this heading?

To nowhere, says Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, who tells the Daily Nation that Somalia and Kenya are joined at the hip, in reference to the cultural, geographical, and economic bonds inextricably tying these two countries together.

In fact barely 48hrs after news of Mogadishu's diplomatic pullout from Nairobi, there are already suggestions that it is going to hurt trade between the two neighbours to unprecedented levels.

Writing on Twitter, the head of the Heritage Institute think tank, Abdrirashid Hashi calls for more circumspection.

"Somalia's government decision to cut ties with Kenya should be scrutinized, why cut ties now, was this the only option?"  

In the meantime, it is diplomatic business as usual on the part of Kenya whose envoys have since returned to Mogadishu to man their posts.


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