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Kenya-Somali Relations: A fresh look

By Cali Cusmaan


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There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says “The crafty rabbit has three different entrances to its lair”. It seems Kenya is having a dilemma in deciding whether to have one foreign policy entrance to the cloudy political affairs of Somalia as it always had or change to a foreign policy with multiple entrances. 


Kenya like Ethiopia is always watchful from Somali government that might seek the re-unification of greater Pan-Somali.  Kenya is fearful that the predominantly ethnic Somali population in the Northern Frontier District may be tempted to separate from Kenya. This very fear drove Jomo Kenyatta in 1964 to sign a mutual defense agreement with Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie. This agreement was renewed in 1979 and third time in 1989.


Kenya to its credit acted as an honest broker in the Mbagathi conference that the current TFG of Somalia was nominated. Kenya made many attempts to resolve the Somali conflict with no tangible outcomes. Kenya also welcomed huge number of Somali refugees which is still a considerable burden to its economy. Somali business men and women have received an environment where they can operate freely and have very good relationships with the Kenyan citizens. In fact, one can say no country has done more for the Somali people than Kenya for the past 15 years.

Somalis will remind you, how grateful they are to Kenyan people and their government for standing up and assisting them. Most Somalis have good things to say about Kenya and its people with the exception of paying bribes to corrupt police officials. Kenya to its credit also banned the warlords that were evicted from Mogadishu to enter Kenya and have imprisoned one while Ethiopia our other neighbor welcomes them and arms them.


Kenya has not invaded a sovereign Somali territory since the collapse of the Somali government even though Kenya has a huge border with Somalia and has received huge number of refugees among them some criminal elements. With all these problems Kenya remained a true friend of Somalia and have shown respect, restraint and provided humanitarian assistance to Somalis fleeing from war.


Due to this unwritten respect between Somalis and Kenyans, I could not find any Somali wanting or even talking about the Northern Frontier District while the debate in the Somali Zone in Ethiopia is raging. Therefore, one must assume Kenya has been pursuing a foreign policy characterized mutual respect and understanding. This explains why the dominant and widely respect Islamic Courts of Somalia have made a concerted effort to assure Kenya that they are not threat to Kenya, its people and borders. 


However, recently, Kenya seems to be changing this good policy which has been working for both countries to live in peace and respectful neighborly relations for over four decades. Few days ago, the Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi visited the democratically elected president of Kenya Mwai Kibaki to do some arm twisting in order to influence and change the wise, time tested and successful foreign policy of Kenya vis-à-vis Somalia. It seems he is trying to convince the president of Kenya to allow IGAD troops to be sent to Somalia, knowing well 100% of Somalis and certainly the dominant Islamic Supreme Council are opposed to such a deployment.


Kenya should not follow the footsteps of Ethiopia for several reasons. First, Somali Kenyans are not tortured, randomly massacred, their livestock looted or their drinking wells poisoned which is common place in the Ethiopian controlled Somali State. Somalis are integrated with the Kenyan people and they feel they are part of the Kenyan society. Secondly, Kenya is a democratic country that elects its leadership with open and transparent democratic system where the Ethiopia is a dictatorship run by a minority rebel group.


Kenya unlike Ethiopia is an advanced country with massive tourist industry and would suffer more with instability than Ethiopian dictatorship would have. The Somali Islamic Courts have repeatedly assured Kenya that they see Kenya and its people as friend and they would respect the territorial and borders of Kenya. The Islamic courts sent several envoys to Kenya and have assured them that Kenya is a friend of Somalia and nothing but good relations is acceptable to them.


 Kenya does not have an interest in Somali destabilization where Ethiopia gains such as destabilization and interference of the Somali affairs. Rather, Kenya would gain a lot from a strong Somali government that can maintain their side of the border. In addition such a government would enable Kenya to repatriate thousands of Somali refugees who are burden on its economy.


As the sayings goes “Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes” let us hope Kenya finishes with the good beginning of its foreign policy and it does not yield to the arm twisting of the Ethiopian dictator.  Kenya, use your credit with Somalia built for over decades wisely.


Cali Cusmaan

E-mail: [email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"


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