How Kenya nurtured Somalia’s transitional government—then lost influence years later

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
File | PSCU
How Kenya nurtured Somalia’s transitional government—then lost influence years later
Sunday, January 24, 2021
By Sunday Nation Correspondent
Nation Media Group

Fourteen years ago, in January 2007, Somalia President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed set foot in Mogadishu for the first time since taking office in 2004. His triumphant entry in the capital symbolised victory for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and indeed Kenya, from where he had ruled his country for three years.

Ever since, there has been a lot of water under the bridge and the initial goodwill, partnership and enthusiasm between the two nations has died down.

Kenya was at the forefront in the mediation exercise under the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), which brought to end the political leadership quagmire in Mogadishu and led to the formation of TFG. With time, however, this history seems to have gradually faded, giving room for suspicions and bad blood to creep in.

From protests by Kenya that battles between Somalia-based militia groups and government forces often cause insecurity along the border line to planned repatriation of Somali refugees residing in Kenya and the unresolved maritime boundary dispute, the hostilities keep piling up.

The latest revolves around Kenya’s alleged interference in Somalia’s internal affairs, leading to Mogadishu’s decision to sever relations with Nairobi.

Kenya-Somalia border row has ‘metamorphosed’: Prof Midamba
Kenya-Somalia border row has ‘metamorphosed’: Prof Midamba
This new development is causing fears that lukewarm diplomatic relations between Nairobi and Mogadishu — against the backdrop of general elections in Somalia — pose a big threat to regional security and political stability.

Read: Somalia admits tiff with Kenya ‘profiting’ Al-Shabaab militants

Pointing out that a stable Somalia is good for Kenya, Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Ababu Namwamba stresses that Nairobi is committed to working with Mogadishu to rebuild a peaceful, secure, prosperous and stable State and “to help secure the Horn of Africa region”.

“The recent reopening of a fully-fledged Somali embassy in Nairobi after several decades of civil strife and chaos is a most emphatic confirmation that Somalia is readying itself to, once again, play an important role as a key member of the regional and international community. This is a vital step for regional peace and prosperity,” said Mr Namwamba.

Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble similarly pointed out that a peaceful Somalia is good for the region. Roble pegs the country’s political tranquility to the delivery of a free, fair and transparent election.

“This will usher in the much-needed stability and progress to our people, besides strengthening our democracy. This election will help to shape the future of Somalia and our great people,” he said.

Kenya-Somalia border row has been messed-up by the Ministry of Foreign affairs – Hashi
Kenya-Somalia border row has been messed-up by the Ministry of Foreign affairs – Hashi
The optimism from the Kenyan and Somali government officials notwithstanding, tension between the two nations remains. In fact according to security and political pundits, it is unlikely that the diplomatic hostilities will end anytime soon before the polls in Somalia, slated for later this year.

Some government officials in Somalia have openly claimed that Kenya’s initial role was persuaded by selfish business and political interests.

Read: Kenya, Somalia tiff hurts Sh16m-a-day miraa trade

“Indeed this is a perception held by many Somalis who believe that Kenya is keener on exploiting existing business opportunities and controlling our country’s political destiny. That precisely explains the current hostilities, especially during this electioneering process,” explains Abdishakur Ahmed, a Mogadishu-based analyst.

He says the tiff between Mogadishu and Nairobi serves President Farmaajo’s political interests so well “because his government has for long been considered to be a puppet of the West and subservient, particularly, to Kenya”.

That Farmaajo is (finally) standing up against the Kenyans has earned him accolades locally and his ratings have improved,” says Abdishakur.

But Kenya is not alone in this Farmaajo storm. He has also had strained diplomatic relations with United Nations representatives, leading to the expulsion of UN’s Special Representative in Somalia Nicholas Haysom in 2019 “for meddling in the internal affairs of Somalia”.

In the Haysom instance, Farmaajo’s message was to affirm to the Somali community, within the country and in the diaspora, as well as the international community, that Somalia was serious about guarding its sovereignty, and that no individual, whatever their status, can liberally undermine the government and people of Somalia.

Oil is the root cause of the maritime row between Kenya and Somalia – Irungu
Oil is the root cause of the maritime row between Kenya and Somalia – Irungu
The Farmaajo Government also considers the support of Kenya for the breakaway Jubaland, and particularly its President Ahmed Mohamed Islam alias Madobe, as an encroachment on its internal affairs.

Read: Somalia Severs Diplomatic Ties With Kenya

On the flipside, Kenya perceives the Jubaland region as an important buffer zone between its territory and Al-Shabaab-controlled regions in Somalia. The Kenyan government, says security analyst Joash Maina, supported the election of Madobe to ensure the safety of its own borders. This was despite opposition from the governments of both Somalia and Ethiopia.

“The dictates of foreign policy are that each country’s interests come first. In our case it is about securing our borders and we cannot therefore afford to have an enemy or unfriendly federal government of Somalia bordering us,” says Maina.

Kenya also hosts a huge number of refugees from Somalia, and the authorities consider this a security threat. One reason for this is their back-and-forth cross-border movements and the fact that they are difficult to differentiate from Kenyan citizens of Somali ethnic descent. Somali refugees and Somali locals share the same language and the Islamic faith, are divided into clans, sub-clans, and lineages, and have a long history of interactions across the Kenya-Somalia border.

Citing military and economic support accorded to Somalia over the years, including the country’s role in the formation of TFG, Mr Namwamba says Kenya has all along demonstrated a spirit of good neighbourliness.

“It is a sacrifice that Kenya has had to pay dearly in terms shedding of the blood of soldiers engaged in the Amisom peace mission as well as ordinary citizens, who are often easy targets of Al-Shabaab militants. We are not paying such a price for sheer fun, but rather for the love of our neighbours and for our commitment to internal and regional peace,” the CAS told this writer.

Nonetheless, Kenya and Somalia have experienced more political friction under Farmaajo than any other leader in recent times. In fact, of the latest crop of Somali leaders, observers single out the Head of the TFG Government, Abdullahi, as friendlier and more cooperative. They partly attribute this to the fact that he was alive to Kenya’s role in his country’s political emancipation efforts.

But it is this apparent preference by Kenya — regarded as Big Brother — of certain candidates that makes the political process in Somalia dicey and generates resistance from several quarters. Part of the current friction stems from fears that “Big Brother” is hellbent on influencing the Somalia political process. Mr Namwamba refutes that claim.

Author: Warsame Digital Media WDM

About the blogger: This blog is associated with the former Chief of Staff in Puntland State Presidency, 1998-2005. He also worked with the UN and World Bank Joint Secretariat for Somalia’s Re-construction and Development Program (RDP), 2005-2006, as a Zonal Technical Coordinator for Puntland and later as National Aid Technical Coordinator with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and European Union. He is now an independent political analyst and commentator on current issues and occasionally gives historical perspective on modern Somalia’s politics. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada. He can be reached at:

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