The Somalia government officials have made a subtle admission that the diplomatic tiff with Kenya is profiting the terror group Al-Shabaab, even as opposition politicians chided Mogadishu for cutting links which they would have used to iron out differences.
The claims emerged last week as a special team from Djibouti toured both countries to gather facts on the cause and nature of a spat between Kenya and Somalia.
The Djiboutian team includes diplomats and military chiefs nominated by President Guelleh as a voluntary offer to help resolve differences between Kenya and Somalia that had seen the latter cut diplomatic ties last December. The team includes Gen Osman Noor Soubagleh, a former Force Commander of the African Union Mission who is now a senior advisor on military affairs for the African Union-endorsed stabilisation force in Somalia. The delegation is not an Igad team although the regional body attached an official on the mission as an “observer”.
In a meeting with government officials in Somalia, Mogadishu tabled a list of allegations, including one complaining that Kenyan forces in Somalia, under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), were no longer keeping guard of liberated areas, allowing Shabaab militants to recapture them.
The allegation fronted to the Djibouti fact finding mission ran counter to the public claims some Somalia officials had made in the past, including a desire to have the Kenya Defence Forces removed from the country.
According to the Amisom Concept of Operations (Conops), the positioning, movement or abandoning of bases is subject to approvals of the force commander, which traditionally happen with the knowledge of the Somalia government.
Balal Mohamed Osman, Somalia’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and his Permanent Secretary Mohamed Ali-Nur Haji, who met the Djiboutian delegation, also made three other allegations against Kenya, including that Kenya had violated Somali airspace, trained and equipped militia to destabilise Somalia and violated Somali maritime territorial waters (a matter subject to a court case at the International Court of Justice).
When the mission led by Djibouti’s ambassadors to Somalia and Kenya, Mr Aden Hassan Aden and Mr Yacin Elmi Bouh, demanded a response from Nairobi, Kenya government officials rejected the claims but agreed to take the team to the border areas in Mandera where Kenya is alleged to be hosting militia.
While in Kenya, the team met with Kenya’s Cabinet secretaries for Foreign Affairs (Raychelle Omamo) and Defence (Monica Juma) was well as the Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Gen Robert Kibochi.
At the meetings in Nairobi and Mandera, Kenyan officials rejected Somalia’s accusations, instead tabling satellite images of Somalia’s recent troop movements in the last eight months, indicating the Somalia forces were now just about 20 metres from the common border.
Nairobi sees Somalia’s deployment of troops at a border with its neighbour with which they were not at war as a bad signal as Kenya’s own troops were still cantoned at their traditional camp, some five kilometres away from the border.
On Friday, some Somali politicians criticised their government for severing ties, arguing it is diplomatic channels that often resolve the differences.
“A diplomatic spat between Kenya and Somalia will not benefit the two brotherly neighbours and their people. It will only benefit the terrorist group Al-Shabaab to give them a mantra to further destabilise the security of Somalia and, by extension, the greater Horn of Africa,” said Abdikarim Hussein Guled, a former Interior minister now running for presidency in the planned elections.
Guled said that while he thanked President Guelleh for nominating special envoys, he laid blame on President Farmaajo’s government for taking an “ill-advised” decision to cut ties.
“We do not choose our neighbours. I call upon Mogadishu to restore the diplomatic ties and the historic friendship of the two nations. I urge both Mogadishu and Nairobi to stay away from anything that puts in harm’s way the deeply rooted relationship of the two neighbours.”
The Kenyan Ministry of Education said some 1,200 pupils from Somalia have, nonetheless, enrolled in Kenyan schools in spite of the tensions which have affected trade.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said he hoped the fact-finding mission, which was accepted by both sides, exonerates Kenya.
“The verification mission has taken place successfully with excellent cooperation between the ministries of Foreign Affairs and the ministries of Defence of the two countries. Kenya looks forward to it positive report of the mission that will categorically debase all the accusations levelled against Kenya, once and for all,” he told the Nation after the team visited Nairobi and Mandera.
“I am not sure the extent at which it is effective. But the thing is, any diplomatic efforts by Igad member countries have potential to pave way for resolving of the dispute,” Abdimalik Abdullahi, a researcher on Horn of Africa politics told the Nation on Friday.
Some analysts think, however, that Somalia is using the spat for political gain. The country is due to hold presidential elections next month on 8th, but has already fallen behind schedule as leaders bicker over the mode of elections.
Ibrahim Adan, a retired Kenyan diplomat argued that the fact-finding mission could offer Somalia’s Farmaajo a chance to delay resolving the Kenya-Somalia tiff until after elections, given there are no timelines on when Djibouti should table its findings.
“It is all about a political issue being played around and for the fact-finding mission to tamper down with the tensions,” he said.
“In any case, Igad in its present form cannot generate consensus to censure any member.”
The mission, however is not a judicial organ to pass judgement on a party. Instead, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Djibouti’s Ismael Guelleh and Somalia’s Mohamed Farmaajo agreed to have the team visit the areas to find out whether anyone had encroached on the other’s territory.
They will table the report to President Guelleh who will then be expected to advise the two leaders whether Nairobi was at fault.