The civil conflict that has reigned over Somalia for more than two decades has generated problems, not just for that country, but for its neighbours as well.
Kenya has been particularly affected. She has not only had to cater for a huge number of asylum seekers, but also deal with al Qaeda-linked extremists who have brutally shelled Kenyan towns on the border and recruited adherents from Kenya’s population.
We at the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) recognise the effort and resources that Kenya has expended in providing a safe haven for the refugees.
We also appreciate the part that Kenya played in the search for peace in Somalia. Amisom is grateful for the tremendous support and assistance we have received in our mission to support the Somali peace process and to help the government rid the country of the foreign-led extremist menace.
Kenya has hosted numerous Somali reconciliation conferences as well as the original Transitional Federal institutions and continues to offer assistance in training of the Somali police force.
Further, Kenyan ports provide a crucial hub for supplies to our troops in Mogadishu and the country has been a valuable and effective ally in lobbying for greater international attention to Somalia’s plight and support for our difficult mission.
We also appreciate the effort and resources that the country has expended in providing a safe haven for Somali refugees. Currently, nearly 350,000 asylum seekers are housed at the Dadaab camp.
While accommodating such a huge number of refugees undoubtedly poses significant security challenges, it is important to note that the majority of Somalis seeking asylum in Kenya and elsewhere have no connection to the extremists.
In fact, a recent poll in Mogadishu showed that the insurgency is unpopular within Somalia. Many abhor both the alien ideology the extremists seek to impose and their brutal methods.
Evidence suggests that Kenya has benefited economically from the resources, talents, and skills of Somalis.
According to a March 2011 report by Chatham House, a London-based think tank, while most of the refuges are poor, a substantial number come with money readily available for large investments.
Accustomed to decades of political uncertainty, these Somalis have been able to turn political and social challenges into unique business opportunities.
The report states that “growing Somali investment in Nairobi has attracted banks and other service-providers, demonstrating that urban refugees are not necessarily a burden on the State and can be an economic asset.”
Somali businessmen, active in the areas of transport, real estate, finance, import-export, and livestock, have invested over $1.5 billion (Sh129 billion) in Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb alone, giving the lie to the accusation that these were profits from piracy, which is rampant off the Somali coast.
In 2009, when the vice was at its height, total proceeds from ransoms amounted to less than a tenth of that figure.
The above illustrates the potential impact the refugees can have if they are given an opportunity to turn their attention to rebuilding Somalia.
Already, Somalis in the diaspora send upwards of $1 billion to their relatives and friends back home. Still, it is in Somalia that their energies and talents are needed if the country is to rise from the ashes of its turbulent past.
However, for them to return, the Somali government must be assisted in re-establishing peace and stability. Our troops on the ground have shown that this is possible, given adequate resources and personnel.
We, their civilian counterparts, are proud to join them in Mogadishu and ready to continue playing our part to consolidate the gains they have made.
This past week marked the passing of Africa Day, which is dedicated to fostering solidarity in the continent.
In that spirit, it is only right that the world recognises the extraordinary help and solidarity that Kenya has shown to Somalia despite the strain this has put on her.
Going forward, let us give thought to what we on the continent, and in the rest of the world, can do to ensure that the remarkable Somali entrepreneurs can return home and replicate their successes in Kenya for the good of Somalia, the region, and the entire globe.
Mr Wamunyinyi is the Deputy Special Representative of the chairperson of the African Union Commission on Somalia.