Dear readers, SouthFront presents you an interesting article on the current state of relations between Somalia and Kenia and the situation in the Horn of Africa in general. It was written by our reader Simon Ndiritu. We thank Mr. Nidritu for the article.
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There has been tacit muscling between two East African countries in which frail Somalia is trying to ‘get back at’ Kenya, which stood by Somalis through their years of anarchy. The relationship between Kenya and Somalia has been historically complicated, primarily due to boarders inherited from European colonial masters’ scrabble for Africa. European divided previously borderless Africa awkwardly into colonies that would later become countries. The conflict-precipitating nature of African borders is exemplified by Kenya-Somalia relations. The two countries’ common boarder has generated serious friction between them, which emboldens the often-belligerent Somalia’s Elites. From people-to-people relations, I posit, that Kenya has been sufficiently helpful to ordinary Somalis but Somalia’s elites have been ungrateful as I will illustrate in this article. Meanwhile, I offer a short background to the bone of contention between the two countries for you to have basic context of their relations.
Background: Northern Frontier District
The bone of contention between the two countries is Northern Frontier District (NFD), former north eastern province of Kenya. This region was historically part of Jubaland, which was controlled by Somali Ajuran and later the Geledi Sultanates. The British colonialists transferred Jubaland to British East Africa. In 1925, the British ceded some parts of the Jubaland to Italy, leading to this region’s division. The rest (NFD) became part of British colony of Kenya. In 1960, the Somalian section of Jubaland gained independence alongside Somalia in 1960 and hoped to be rejoined by Kenya’s NFD. Kenya obtained independence three years later and did not cede NFD to Somalia. Therefore, Kenya retained a notable population of ethnic Somalis. Somalia has always tried to attract this population (and NFD) to its side. From Kenya’s perspective, it (Kenya) is not to blame for governing NFD as a part of the territory it inherited; after all, Somalia did not exist before the 60s has no legal claim to NFD.
After various attempts by the Somalia government to wrestle NFD from Kenya, some of which were crushed by massacres by the Kenyan Government, Somalia keeps trying to take this region. From my perspective, Kenya should have limited heavy handed approach when dealing with Kenya-Somali’s who had been misled by Somalia. Beginning in the late 1980s, Somalia descended into civil war. Kenya came in handy for poor Somalis who sought refuge there. However, Somalia elites hired militias to protect them and sent their children abroad for education.
Somalis in Kenya
Somali Refugees started streaming into Kenya during the civil war. After the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, 1.1 million citizens fled into Kenya and Ethiopia. Others have streamed into Kenya due to several cycles of violence or famine experienced in Somalia over the years.
Some have been integrated with their Kenyan relatives while others transit through Kenya to other countries, including in Europe and the US. Therefore, the number of Somali citizens in Kenya has always change as new arrivals stream in waves while others leave. For instance, Kenya hosted about half a million refugees in Dadaab in 2013, (96% being Somalis). Guardian noted that Dadaab was the largest refugee camp globally in 2016 that hosted about 400,000 people. The same organization noted that the Kakuma refugee camp hosted an additional 101 000 refugees; this number constituted a significant percentage of Somali refugees. Even after the Joint operation that repatriated about 200 000 Somali refugees, the UNHCR 2019 reported that there were 212,936; 191,500 and 74,758 refugees in Dadaab, Kakuma, and other urban areas respectively. Assuming 96% of Somali refugees in Dadaab and a significant percentage for others, it is safe to estimate that a quarter a million Somali refugees were in Kenya. In the same year, the UNHCR reported that tens of thousands of refugees arrived in Kenya.
In addition to refugees, pew research estimated that 2million Somali refugees had attained citizenship in different countries including in Kenya. Some Somalis easily get Kenyan citizenship due to their family ties to Kenyan-Somalis. Also, there are tens of thousands of Somali citizens who live in Kenya illegally. Ordinary Kenyans are comfortable with them except in instances when some of these foreigners are suspected of collaborating with Al-Shabaab. A security operation to arrest Al-Shabaab operatives and sympathizers spanning three days in Eastleigh neighborhood led to arrest of 447 unregistered Somali immigrants. A similar action throughout the country could potentially nub thousands of Somalia nationals but Kenya sees no need to return them to Somalia unless they cooperate with Al-Shabaab.
The strain that Somalia refugees’ places on Kenya’s economy and resources is immeasurably massive. Kenyan citizens shoulder this responsibility well. Somali nationals participate in social and economic activities as Kenyans do. It is rare to see any hate crime perpetrated by Kenyans against Somalis.
In 2011, Kenya responded to the Somali government’s request and deployed its troops to support the government in battling al-Shabaab terrorists. Kenya did not invade Somalia since Somalia Transitional Government Fighters (TFG) led the war. Other Somali groups such as the Raskamboni Brigade (a Jumbaland-based militia), Ahlu Sunna WalJama’a (a Somali Sunni militia that was opposed to Wahhabi and Sharia law) and Azania (a militia group in the larger juba) also participated with Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) assuming support role. Then, Kenya’s ministry of defense was headed by a Kenyan-Somali who could be expected to safeguard the interests of Kenyans and Somalis. Kenya sacrificed many lives and huge sums to stabilize what it believed was a brother country. Standard Media estimated that it cost Kenya Ksh10.8million ($108,000) annually to fight alongside TFG and later Somali National Army (SNA). Also, Kenyan spent an additional amount repairing roads, hospitals, and schools to facilitate return to a peaceful life. Kenya has facilitated and participated in Eldoret’s meeting to promote a peaceful transition from a transitional government to the current government. In 2012, when the federal government took over, this became the beginning of Somalia’s elites undermining Kenya with the tacit assistance of Al-Shabaab and some European powers.
In 2009 and 2010, Kenya and Somalia were in the receiving end of Al-Shabaab, which detonated several IEDs in the capital Mogadishu killing hundreds of Somalia while kidnapping tourists in Kenya for ransom. After Kenya assisted Somalia to fight terrorists, assisted Somali refugees, and participated in a political process that created the transitional government, Somalia started undermining Kenya. It started by claiming Kenya’s maritime territory, demanding that the boundary extends in the direction of its land border and took the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) headed by a Somali. While I cannot claim know which country is right, Somalia had honored the existing border for 35 years (between 1979 and 2014). Also, the boundaries of the African state along the Indian oceans run parallel to the equator as the existing Kenya-Somalia boarder. Historically, Kenyan had access to the Indian ocean and thriving cultural exchange with India, Persia, and Oman through ocean routes, which negates Somalia’s proposal, which suggests that Kenyan communities were historically landlocked. It is interesting to see if/how the ICJ grants Somalia’s request, which would deny Kenyans and East Africans access to open ocean, which they have enjoyed for many centuries. Besides, Kenya feels betrayed by the aggressive behavior of Somalia. However, a closer evaluation of Somalia’s action and alignment of Powers around this issue indicates that Somalia is being used as a battering ram against Kenya.
Norway and UK are pushing Somalis to claim Kenya’s maritime territory to expand their oil and gas interests, suggesting that Kenya has outlived its usefulness to them. It illustrates that the UK views its oil interests to be more important than its relations with Kenya. The actions of these European powers results from their preference for manipulating weaker states for their interests. UK/Norway’s assistance appeals to Somalia’s elite that holds bitter sentiments against Kenya and not ordinary Somali nationals. The same elites dragged the impoverished country into a civil ware leading to the collapse of Somalia before. Ordinary citizens remained in Somalia or moved to Kenya or Ethiopia when their state collapsed. Kenyans and ordinary Somali nationals have a mostly equal and symbiotic relations. Therefore, Somalia needs to relook its stand against its neighbor.
Jostling between Somalia and Kenya has spilled into the field of telecommunication, and participants are not prepared to play fair. There has been a string of destruction of telecommunication masts inside Kenya’s territory. An investigation by the International Policy Group established that Somalis Telcom operator Hormuud was linked to the Al-Shabaab terror group. According to this report, Hormuud paid Al-Shabaab $3million to demolish communication masts 50 kilometers into Kenya’s border. Hormuud is also used by locals to pay taxes “Zakat” to Al-Shabaab. Somalia’s government responded to these claims by accusing that KDF Demolished a telecommunication mast in Somalia. However, no independent body has confirmed this accusation. Also, it is unlikely that KDF would demolish only one must in response to about seven that the terror group has destroyed. Also, one wonders how KDF can demolish one mast while repairing roads and hospitals in southern Somalia.
Voices in Somalia’s government supported claims made by Hormuud and Al-Shabaab. This suggests a possible tactic coalition between the three parties. While accusing the Somalia government may seams extreme, a UNSC 2014 report implicated a close associate of the Somalia’s president with diverting weapons meant for the Somali National Army to al-Shabaab. It would help to ask why the government purporting to fight terrorists diverted military weapons to the same terrorists. Noteworthy, Al-Shabaab activities in Kenya increased after the dates of these deliveries, and the group was able to conduct three of the deadliest terrorist attacks (the Westgate, the El Adde, and the Garissa university Attacks) afterwards. Mogadishu’s ‘assistance’ to Al-Shabaab could have enabled the latter to attack Kenya.
Taking the War to Kenya
In March of this year, The Somali National Army (SNA) attacked the Jubaland forces, near the Kenyan town of Mandera and jammed Kenya’s GSM signal. A Kenyan was killed, and businesses were closed. SNA also. The Kenya government issued a statement and declined to engage its military. However, the Somali government condemned Kenya’s encroachment into its territory. Later, the Jubaland government claimed that the Somali government was seeking to overthrow it. If these claims are valid, they reflect a centralist attitude adopted by Siad Barre, which led to the collapse of Somalia republic in 1991. The situation was easily deescalated when Kenya’s president phoned Somalia’s. One wonders why Somalia did not adopt this approach from the beginning.
Driving a Wedge between Kenyan-Somalis and other tribes?
Somalia had tried to pull Kenyan-Somalis away from Kenya during Shifta War. It also attempted to pull Somali speaking Ogaden from Ethiopia, leading to Ogaden War. After Somalia collapsed in 1991, one would expect that the new frail state prioritizes development. Oppositely, the last decade has seen Somalia and Al-Shabaab trying to pull Kenyan-Somalis away from Kenya. For instance, during Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya, the group feigns sympathy for ethnic Somalis by sparing them while killing other ethnic groups. The same group kills Somalis indiscriminately in Somalia.
Similarly, the Somalia’s elites/Government is luring Kenyan parliamentarians (MPs) of Somali origin for secret talks. In March this year, 11 Kenya-Somali MPs flew to Somalia for undeclared meeting. Kenyan government clarified that the MPs had not sought clearance or mandate to represent Kenya in any official function. Also, Kenya’s intelligence agency confirmed that these MPs had a secret meeting with the head of Somali’s intelligence, organized through shadowy third parties. The agenda of this meeting remains unclear, and exclusions of parliamentarians of other communities makes it even more suspicious.
There is adequate reason to believe that the Somali government is up to something sinister. Also, Somalia is not treating Kenya like a brother that stood with Somalis through trying times. Its plans are close to those pursued by Al-Shabaab and Hormuud. They relate to its rush to ICJ or taring NFD from Kenya. Whether this plan succeeds is another story. Also, How Kenya reacts is subject to another deep analysis.
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