Somaliland leader Muse Bihi Abdi arrived in Kenya on Sunday and is set to hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, on “mutual interests”.
President Bihi was received by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba.
While Bihi’s visit to Kenya is not the first, it comes amidst severed relations with Somalia, which has been fighting the independence of Somaliland.
This is the second visit by a Somaliland leader following a similar one by President Kahin Riyale Kahin in 2006. He was receioved by President Mwai Kibaki.
“Somaliland is an important partner in the Horn of Africa region in the fight against terrorism and particularly Al-Shabaab,” Kenya’s Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Sunday.
While Kenya has no diplomatic presence in Somaliland, Foreign Affairs said, it takes cognisance of the political and economic stability of the region.
“It is keen to enhance and broaden trade in goods and services, as well as, investment as the cornerstone for long-term development cooperation with the region,” the statement said in part.
The visit comes days after Somalia recalled its ambassador on November 30, for “consultations” accusing Kenya of interfering with Mogadishu’s domestic affairs. Kenya’s ambassador Lucas Tumbo was also sent home.
Somalia escalated this further on December 7 after Mogadishu stopped visa on arrival for Kenyans from December 13, 2020.
In a statement, Mogadishu said the decision is in line with “the Federal government’s policy of ensuring security, improving migration management and reducing the risks of Covid-19 Infections”.
Previously, Kenyans were required to obtain visas on arrival in Somalia.
Diplomatic passport holders are now required to have an approval from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Federal Government, it said.
Nairobi’s choice of words during Bihi’s visit appears to be directly hitting at Mogadishu.
Kenya, for instance, used ‘republic of Somaliland’ and noted that Bihi was accorded a “head of state” reception.
“The President of the Republic of #Somaliland @musebiihi , has arrived in #Nairobi and accorded a Head of State Reception. He will hold talks with H.E Uhuru Kenyatta alongside other #Kenya officials on matters security, trade and bilateral relations. Karibu Kenya,” Kenya Liason tweeted.
Bashe Omar Awil, the Somaliland envoy to Kenya, says despite the historic challenge of non-recognition, Hargeisa has continued to attract investments and partners from the international community.
“While the political recognition remains absent, Somaliland’s contribution to the world economy and peace has not gone unnoticed, Awil says.
He notes that countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates have been partners with Somaliland, thousands of their citizens living and working there.
“Ultimately, while Somaliland will continue its push for international recognition, investors will have already given the country a thumbs-up because of the opportunities it offers, the peace and stability and the ease in doing business,” Awil says.
In June 2019, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Ambassador Macharia Kamau held talks with Somaliland Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Yasin Hagi Mohamed and “discussed issues of mutual interest between the two countries and ways of strengthening the cooperation”.
The breakaway state of Somaliland has been a self-governing region of Somalia for more than 20 years, but its claim of independence is not recognised by Mogadishu or any foreign government, despite lobbying since 1991.
It has hundreds of miles of coastline along the Gulf of Aden to the north, and it borders Ethiopia to the south and west and Djibouti to the northwest.
The recent development appears to be a move to shun Somalia on the back drop of the Indian Ocean maritime border dispute and recent diplomatic spats. Somalia has also banned Kenyan miraa/ khat.
Somalia took Kenya to the International Court of Justice in 2014.