TIES SEVERED

Kenya-Somalia love–hate relationship

Relations have been characterised by increasing tensions, which have escalated in recent years.

In Summary

• In August 2014, Somalia formally asked the ICJ to determine the complete course of the single maritime boundary dividing all the maritime areas

•  This would later become the Somalia-Kenya maritime border dispute.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, during his inauguration in Mogadishu, Somalia in 2017
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, during his inauguration in Mogadishu, Somalia in 2017
Image: FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 23, 2017, accorded Somalia’s Mohamed Farmaajo full honours, including a 21-gun salute, on his first state visit to Kenya.

This was a month after President Kenyatta attended his inauguration in Mogadishu and pledged Kenya’s continued support to the Horn of Africa country. 

Uhuru reaffirmed his government's commitment to continue building "on the sound bilateral relations that exist between our two nations”.

Three years later, Kenya and Somalia have severed ties, with Mogadishu citing Nairobi’s interference with its domestic affairs, particularly the elections. 

But how did it get there?

Kenya-Somalia relations have been characterised by increasing tensions, which have escalated in recent years. Among the contentious issues are security, maritime border dispute and domestic affairs.

Given Somalia has been in a constant state of political instability since 1991, Kenya has maintained close relations with Jubaland for economic and military cooperation as it acts as a buffer zone. This has emerged to be the centre of the recent row.

In August 2014, Somalia formally asked the International Court of Justice "to determine, on the basis of international law, the complete course of the single maritime boundary dividing all the maritime areas appertaining to Somalia and to Kenya in the Indian Ocean”.

This would later become the Somalia-Kenya maritime border dispute.

Kenya got alarmed when Somalia displayed contested oil and gas blocks within its territory for auction in London.

The fight for the ocean resources had put Kenya’s interests at risk, with the Somali Parliament pushing for the withdrawal of the Kenya Defence Forces.

Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau said the auction happened on February 7, 2019 in London. Consequently, Kenya recalled its ambassador over the alleged auctioning of oil and gas blocks and expelled the Somalia envoy.

The two states resumed relations in May of that year after talks on the maritime row. Welcoming back the envoy, Kamau said he hoped “for even better days ahead.”

Days later, however, Somalia said its officials would not attend meetings, workshops, seminars and trainings in Nairobi after its senior officials were returned to Mogadishu on arrival at JKIA.

The officials were scheduled to attend the launch of the EU Trust Fund for Africa Programme Collaboration in Cross Border Areas of the Horn of Africa at the United Nations Office in Nairobi.

In May, Kenya suspended direct flights from Mogadishu to Nairobi for security reasons but Somalia said the decision was politically motivated.

In June 2019, Kenya appeared to recognise Somaliland as an independent country.

Kamau held talks with Somaliland Minister of Foreign Affairs Yasin Hagi Mohamed and “discussed issues of mutual interest between the two countries and ways of strengthening the cooperation”.

In September Mogadishu, in reaction to the flight suspension, banned direct flights from Nairobi to Kismayu.

That month Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi chaired trilateral talks with presidents Farmaajo and Kenyatta on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in an attempt to cool down escalating tensions. 

Things didn't get any better in 2020 as Somalia banned Kenyan miraa and two Kenyan airlines.

In November, however, Somalia reopened its embassy building in Nairobi after 26 years, days after Kenya launched its new mission in Mogadishu.

At the end of the month, Somalia dramatically recalled its ambassador and sent back Kenyan envoy for consultations.