Direct flights resume between Mogadishu and Nairobi, but diplomatic tensions remain

Direct flights have resumed between the Kenyan and Somali capitals, after months of tensions that have driven a rift between the East African neighbors. The news comes after a meeting between the countries’ presidents in Nairobi.

Flights between Mogadishu and the Kenyan metropolis were suspended six months ago, following a period of severely strained cross-border relations. At the heart of the spat: a yet unresolved dispute over an Indian Ocean maritime boundary, due to be heard next year before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Airline operators and travel agencies in both countries welcomed the resumption of a direct air link. Somali travel agent Osman Abdullahi Osman told CGTN that the route’s revival would help his customers save time.

“Initially it took our clients four to five hours between Mogadishu and Nairobi because of the mandatory stopover in Wajir,” he said. “This affected our passengers, especially those with connecting flights. The elderly and sick also suffered as a result.”

Several Kenyan-owned airlines make regular flights in and out of Mogadishu, including the national carrier, Kenyan Airways.

Somali airlines also stand to benefit from a new agreement between the countries that ensures visas-on-arrival for Somali citizens travelling to Kenya.

Travelers were optimistic about the developments, telling CGTN the resumed flights were “a step forward” and would “improve the movement of people” between the two countries.

But significant obstacles to cross-border migration remain. Somalia’s civil aviation authority still requires flights from Nairobi to the southern port city of Kismayo to transit in the capital Mogadishu.

The move was put in place following a disputed regional election in August, which saw Ahmed Mohamed Islam — popularly known as Madobe — re-elected as president of Jubaland State.

The victory of Madobe, seen as a strong proponent of Kenyan regional interests, ruffled feathers in Mogadishu, which has been pursuing a more centralized approach to governance that chafes against Nairobi’s desire for a semi-autonomous buffer state along its northern border.

Leaders in the Somali capital are insisting on fresh elections in Jubaland — a strong sign that despite recent steps towards reconciliation, the diplomatic divide between Kenya and Somalia is far from fully resolved.

With reporting from Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu.