Kenya-Somalia ties at risk over diplomatic mission in Somaliland

Nairobi (Caasimada Online) – In a move that has the potential to create a diplomatic rift, the Kenyan government has taken a significant step that many interpret as a formal recognition of Somaliland, a self-declared republic in northern Somalia that has yet to receive international recognition. 

President William Ruto announced in an Executive Order that Kenya would be opening a diplomatic mission in the capital of Somaliland, Hargeisa, as part of an effort to expand the country’s diplomatic missions abroad.

Somaliland also has a Liaison Office in Kenya, one of the few countries allowing the breakaway region to open an office. 

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has yet to be officially recognized by any country other than Taiwan. 

The African Union has consistently maintained that any recognition of Somaliland must first come through Somalia. This position is based on the principle of member states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it has been a point of contention between Kenya and Somalia.

The move by Nairobi to open a diplomatic mission in Hargeisa could further complicate the already complex relationship between Kenya and Somalia. 

The two countries have a history of cooperation and conflict, with a major point of contention being the disputed maritime border in the Indian Ocean. 

In 2021, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Somalia, determining that the border should be adjusted so that Somalia would be granted rights to most of the oil-rich region in the Indian Ocean. Kenya rejected the ruling, and the dispute has continued to be a source of tension between the two countries.

In addition to the maritime dispute, trade in the stimulant plant Khat, also known as Miraa in Kenya, has also been a point of friction between the two countries. Somalia is Kenya’s largest market for Khat, but the Somali government suspended the importation of the crop when international flights were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the ban has since been lifted. 

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, upon his re-election, sought to improve relations between Somalia and Kenya. He visited Kenya twice, meeting with outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta and newly-elected President William Ruto. These meetings aimed to strengthen ties between the two nations and resolve any outstanding issues.

During the bilateral talks, both countries reached several agreements, one of which was Somalia lifting the ban on Khat and Kenya committing to facilitate the entry and movement of Somali citizens. However. Nairobi still needs to deliver on this promise. 

To make matters worse, Kenya’s decision to open an embassy in Hargeisa undermines President Mohamud’s efforts to improve relations between the two countries, and it risks causing a further deterioration in the relationship between Kenya and Somalia.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s agreement with Kenya’s leaders has been heavily tilted toward Kenya’s benefit. In contrast, Somalia only benefited from the photos taken during these meetings.

It still needs to be made clear how Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed will respond to Kenya’s actions. However, he may take action to punish Nairobi.

Kenya currently has troops serving in Somalia under the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).