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Travel between Somalia and Kenya increases as security improves

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
By Bosire Boniface

Kenya Airways airliners sit grounded at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. As al-Shabaab has lost ground in Somalia, flights to Kenya have increased dramatically. [Tony Karumba/AFP]

In the months since allied forces in Somalia wrested key territories from al-Shabaab militants, flights between Kenya and Somalia have doubled.

"We have recorded an average of 20 flights a day for the months of September and October, [up] from about 10 flights daily in the months of July and August," said Wajir International Airport manager Charles Kiong'a.

When al-Shabaab militants were in control of a large portion of Somalia a year ago, there was an average of three flights a day, he told Sabahi, adding that the increase reflects improved security in Somalia.

Kiong'a said flights are likely to increase as investors seek out business opportunities and Somalia gradually returns to normal.

Nairobi-based trade and investment consultant Ibrahim Rashid Ahmed said the war crippled Somalia's ability to produce goods and services for domestic consumption and export, but that military gains against al-Shabaab offers opportunities to engage in legal trade.

Kenya also finds itself in a good economic position, as its businessmen can export goods and services to help Somalia find its footing, he said.

"There is a lot of reconstruction to be done in Somalia and many are returning back to help," Ahmed told Sabahi. "We have seen potential investors purposely making individual and group trips to ascertain for themselves the level of improved safety."

A September report from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates that Kenyan exports to Somalia doubled from 8.3 billion shillings ($97 million) in 2007 to 16.6 billion ($194 million) last year. Kenya's imports from Somalia also increased from 12.1 million shillings ($142,000) to 143.9 million shillings ($1.6 million) during the same period.

Although Somali exports have been sustained mainly by khat, a stable Somalia is expected to offer additional opportunities for manufactured goods and services, the report said.

Zeinab Sheikh Mohammed, director of Kenya's Chamber of Commerce and Industries in North Eastern Province, said the liberation of Somalia will radically change the investment climate.

"Kenya is currently awash with counterfeit goods and smuggling is rampant, which has greatly affected local production," she told Sabahi. "With a government in place in Somalia, the illegal trade will decrease significantly."

Retired army Major Bashir Hajji Abdullahi, a security consultant and analyst in Kenya, said stopping illegal trade between the two countries will also help the tourism industry.

"Improved relations between the countries could also lead to a reduction of the travel advisories that have negatively impacted the tourism industry," he said. "The cross-border travel indicates that things are stabilising."

Despite increased travel, delays bother tourists

Passengers have complained of delays at Wajir International Airport after Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki issued a directive in 2007 that all flights from Somalia stop over at the airport for thorough security checks before they are allowed to proceed to Nairobi.

The airport, which was previously an exclusive military airbase, opened to the public the same year.

Somalia's Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur told Sabahi that passengers from Somalia traveling for business meetings have faced delays at the airport lasting more than five hours.

"The Kenyan government should lift the requirement that all flights from Somalia must have stopovers at Wajir International Airport and instead allow direct flights to Nairobi for convenience," he said, adding that hundreds of businesspersons travel from Somalia every day.

Nonetheless, airport manager Kiong'a said security checks normally take less than an hour. "The increased flights from Somalia have overstretched the staff at the airport, but we are working to remedy the situation," he said.

He said they are bracing for more flights with the expected deployment of more staff to the airport.


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