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Kenya, Somalia agree to normalise ties strained over sea row

Thursday November 14 2019

Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo at State House, Nairobi. PHOTO | PSCU 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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Kenya and Somalia have agreed to restore bilateral agreements that would allow free movement of people, State House said Thursday.

At a meeting in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo said they were defending the relations between the two countries, in spite of an existing maritime boundary case at the International Court of Justice.

Both sides agreed to restore visas on arrival for their nationals and aviation authorities will work to restore direct flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu.

“The two principals agreed to bring normality to our bilateral relations and do everything to ensure peaceful relations including obtaining visas on arrival to encourage free movement of our people,” Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary said after the meeting in Nairobi.

In Nairobi, Farmaajo had been attending the three-day International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

But Farmaajo, had travelled to Nairobi only for the first time since March when an attempted mediation by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed failed. It also followed an escalation of tit-for-tat decisions by both sides directly linked to the maritime case.

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Somalia sued Kenya at the ICJ in 2014, seeking to have the maritime border redrawn in an area about 100,000km of sea. The case is due for public hearing in June next year, after the ICJ delayed it twice, on Kenyan request.

In the meantime, Nairobi had been asking for an out of court settlement, something Mogadishu has refused to agreed. In Nairobi, Farmaajo suggested, again, that only the ICJ will be the acceptable arbiter.



Key decisions. PHOTO | COURTESY
Key decisions. PHOTO | COURTESY

“President Farmaajo expressed gratitude for the role of Kenya in AMISOM, hospitality to Somalis refugees, and expressed his confidence that the ICJ issue would be resolved in a mutually acceptable manner and not affect our bilateral relations,” Dr Juma said, referring to the AU peacekeeping force to which Kenya Defence Forces are apart in Somalia.

Restoring relations, though no timelines were given, could mean that Kenyans or Somalis travelling to either side will not need a visa from local diplomatic missions before travelling. Instead, they will get visas at ports of entry. Mogadishu and Nairobi had had this bilateral agreement but was suspended abruptly as the heat on the maritime case rose.

Kenya would later suspend another bilateral agreement on direct flights that had eliminated the need for aircraft from Mogadishu to stop-over in Wajir before landing in any other airport. In return, Mogadishu had imposed a restriction on flights from Nairobi, asking that they first stop in Mogadishu before proceeding to any other city. Both decisions were seen as inconvenient to travellers, although both sides argued they were for security reasons.

It is the second direct meeting between the two leaders in two months. In New York in September, they met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly after Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sissi arranged it.

At the time, State House said the meeting had dealt with matters of “mutual interest.”