Somalia has severed diplomatic ties with neighbouring Kenya, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs before a general election.
In a televised broadcast late on Monday, Information Minister Osman Dubbe said Somalia had ordered all its diplomats in Kenya to return, while Kenyan diplomats in Somalia have been ordered to leave within seven days.
“Kenya continues meddling in our internal political affairs and it has ignored our previous calls to stop violating our sovereignty,” Dubbe announced on state-run SNTV.
“We, therefore, declare that we have cut ties with Kenya over its poor violations on Somalia’s sovereignty.”
Somali officials did not point to specific grievances for the decision but the announcement came as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted in Nairobi Musa Bihi Abdi, the leader of Somaliland, the northwestern region that declared independence from Somalia in 1991.
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 carriers 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 government of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – also known by his nickname Farmaajo – in Mogadishu, which considers Somaliland to be part of its territory.
Kenyan foreign ministry spokesman Cyrus Oguna said on 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 the al-Shabab armed group waging a violent campaign as they seek to unseat the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
The severing of the ties marked the culmination of steadily deteriorating ties between the two neighbours.
On November 30, Somalia expelled Kenya’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Nairobi, accusing Kenya of interfering in the electoral process in Jubbaland, one of its five semi-autonomous states.
Relations between Somalia’s central government and the southern state of Jubbaland, which borders Kenya, are tense as authorities of the semi-autonomous region accuse Mogadishu of seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and put a loyalist in power to increase central control.
Madobe is a key ally of Kenya, which sees Jubbaland as a buffer against al-Shabab fighters who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.
Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubbaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but escaped prison in January.
Kenya and Somalia are also at odds due to a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.
On Sunday, Somalia’s foreign ministry said it had sent a letter of complaint about Kenya to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional bloc, which includes eight African countries, will hold a summit on December 20 in Djibouti.
In response to the Federal Government of #Somalia letter against #Kenya, which was submitted to H.E. Abdalla Hamdok, PM of the Republic of #Sudan & the Chair of the #IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the IGAD will hold a summit in #Djibouti on Dec 20 on this matter.
— Ministry of Foreign Affairs 🇸🇴 (@MofaSomalia) December 13, 2020
Omar Mahmood, senior analyst for Somalia at the International Crisis Group, said the growing tensions relate to electoral dynamic and could have serious implications.
“The Farmaajo administration in Mogadishu feels that Kenya has been supporting the political opposition, whether that’s Ahmed Madobe in Jubbaland or whether that’s the political candidates that are running against them,” he told Al Jazeera.
“A lot of them have been based in Nairobi, had their campaigns based there, before some of them travelled to Mogadishu recently. So I think it very much ties with internal Somali politics and election dynamics, and in terms of Somalia trying to put pressure on Kenya to maybe reassess those relationships.”
Mahmood said “one big unanswered question” was the future of Kenya’s security participation in Somalia, noting that any change or push to remove the Kenyan troops “would have quite devastating security consequences”.