Somalia and Kenya must grow their promising partnership

Thursday March 30 2017

Presidents Kenyatta and Farmajo

President Uhuru Kenyatta (R) with Somalia's Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed at State House in Nairobi on March 23, 2017. PHOTO | PSCU 

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Many media commentators wrote with a surprised tone about the successful official state visit of Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to Kenya on Thursday last week.

In fact, President Uhuru Kenyatta's warm welcome of the Somalia president was not the main story, as this was a given, but how quickly the two leaders moved to agree strategic action on all matters of common concern and opportunity in this single face-to-face encounter.

All the agreed policies at this fruitful meeting from security, trade and investment to direct flights between Mogadishu and Nairobi are not new either.

They were negotiated, agreed and renewed as part of the Joint Commission of Cooperation, which was signed between the two governments in February 2016.

However, what is distinctly different and diplomatically noticeable is the energy and speed with which both leaders want to achieve these enabling goals to advance bilateral relations.

Kenya and Somalia’s relations are deep and strong, as they must be in order to navigate a common path to development as neighbours in a new age of insecurity and competing global economic interests.

However, this relationship has been challenged by the violence of terrorism, which both nations have painfully suffered from, and which they are jointly courageously fighting in Somalia, in support of the people and government of Somalia and for wider regional stability.


Prior to the war on terror and the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, many Somalis settled in Kenya and are now citizens, contributing to the success of the Kenyan economy and society.

Many more are refugees and will have to be returned home safely and with dignity under the Tripartite Agreement at the earliest opportunity.

This continuous support of Somalia and its citizens on the part of Kenya is something that must be noted and is fully recognised and appreciated by both the Somali people and the government.

Therefore, a close relationship with Kenya and other regional partners is not just a mere policy commitment or formality on the part of the Somali government but a strategy for development, economic growth and regional integration.

The immediate common challenge for Somalia and Kenya is fighting terrorism and as both President Mohamed and President Kenyatta promised, they will not stop until it is defeated in both countries.

This is significant, because at times some Kenyan citizens may and have actually questioned why their loved ones must serve in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) forces, especially when they might suffer tragedy and loss such as the El Adde attack in January 2016.

What the continued commitment on both sides and at the highest level illustrates is the firm understanding that tackling terrorism together is paramount, because it does not respect borders as it is driven by a violent, hateful and fraudulent interpretation of the beautiful Islamic religion that Somalis and many Kenyans follow.

The security partnership that Somalia and Kenya enjoy is important but can only be strengthened by further cooperation in cross-border investment and trade.


This is a unique opportunity for both countries given their geographic proximity, strong people-to-people relations and the need for services like education, health and professionals in Somalia.

Already many Kenyans are employed in Somalia and their skillsets are valued across the professions, including engineering, education, administration and hospitality.

The direct flights from both capitals will facilitate the strengthening of economic ties further and may even lead to a future boom in cross-border tourism and more airlines flying between the two capitals, offering consumers great choice.

As usual, while the respective leaders of Somalia and Kenya reaffirmed the agenda for the two nations' bilateral relations in Nairobi last week, it is for the relevant line ministries and agencies on both sides to drive this forward to fruition. It is usually here where delays occur.

However, given the importance of the need for the successful implementation of the Joint Cooperation Agreement and Kenyan visa requirements for Somali diplomats and government employees being waived, bureaucrats on both sides must get to work quickly.

Liban Obsiye is a senior adviser to the Somali foreign minister and the Somali government’s legal adviser during the Joint Commission of Cooperation discussions in Nairobi in 2015.