MOGADISHU, Somalia (AFP) — Somalia severed diplomatic ties with Kenya on Tuesday, accusing Nairobi of interfering in its political affairs as Mogadishu prepares for long-awaited elections.
The move came as Kenya confirmed it had hosted the leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by Mogadishu, following months of rising tensions between the two neighbours.
Somalia has bristled over what it calls Kenya’s meddling in regions over its border, while Nairobi has accused Mogadishu of using it as a scapegoat for its own political problems.
Somali Information Minister Osman Abukar Dubbe told reporters on Tuesday that Kenyan diplomats in Mogadishu had been given seven days to leave, and that Somalia’s envoys were being recalled from Nairobi.
“The government took this decision to respond to recurring outright political violations and interference by Kenya against the sovereignty of our country,” he said in Mogadishu.
Somali officials did not point to specific grievances for the decision to break off diplomatic relations.
But the announcement came as Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta received the president of the self-proclaimed independent Somaliland region, Muse Bihi Abdi, in Nairobi.
– Somaliland consulate –
The leaders announced closer relations in a joint statement on Tuesday, with Kenya committing to opening a consulate in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa by the end of March.
The statement added that Kenyan airlines would start direct flights between Nairobi and Hargeisa by that date.
“The two leaders acknowledged Kenya’s commitment to a peaceful, stable, strong and prosperous Somalia, in which the voices of all the people of Somalia have opportunity to express their sovereign will,” the statement said.
The announcement was likely to further anger the central government in Mogadishu, which considers Somaliland to be part of its territory.
Somalia said Monday it had sent a letter of complaint about Kenya to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country regional bloc, which would discuss the dispute in Djibouti on Sunday.
Kenyan foreign ministry spokesman Cyrus Oguna said Tuesday the government had set up a committee “to seek (a) solution to the diplomatic row.”
He added that his country had been “very kind and accommodating” to some 200,000 Somalis living in vast refugee camps in Kenya’s east.
Kenya is a major contributor of troops to AMISOM, an African Union military operation fighting Al-Qaeda-linked fighters waging a violent insurgency across Somalia as they seek to unseat the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
– Uneasy neighbors –
There is a long list of grievances between the two countries.
Somalia has long resented what it believes is Kenya’s support for Ahmed Madobe, the president of the Somali state of Jubaland.
In November, Somalia recalled its ambassador to Kenya, accusing Nairobi of “placing great political pressure” on Madobe, a former warlord who has raised disagreements with the central government’s roadmap toward Somalia’s elections.
Parliamentary elections are supposed to begin in a matter of weeks in the Horn of Africa nation, with a presidential vote not far behind in early 2021.
But the timetable is well behind schedule, hampered by political infighting between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed — better known by his nickname Farmajo — and the country’s regional leaders, most notably Madobe.
Kenya sees Jubaland as a bulwark against Al-Shabaab and Madobe as an ally in their fight against the militants. But Mogadishu refused to recognize his re-election last year, backing a loyalist in a parallel poll.
In March, Kenya said Somali troops crossed the border during clashes with troops loyal to Jubaland.
Kenya also recalled its ambassador from Mogadishu in February last year in a long-running dispute over a stretch of the Indian Ocean claimed by both nations and believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas.
The countries only agreed to “normalize” relations and start reissuing travel visas to each other’s citizens in November 2019.
by Mustafa HAJI ABDINUR
© Agence France-Presse