The Deteriorating Relationship between Somalia and Kenya Abdirashid Sh-Ali Ahmed
Sunday, June 15, 2014

Somalia is in a very strategic location, with more natural resources than its surrounding neighbors. It is in a region that is critical to both European and American economic and security interests. Despite widespread poverty, intermittent famine, and regular political deadlock, Somalia boasts valuable assets: the longest coastline in Africa; naturally business-oriented citizens; and a well-educated, affluent, and experienced cultural diaspora across the world. It is more technologically advanced and sophisticated than are many well-managed countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However, ongoing civil wars, a lack of visionary and patriotic leadership, a concentration of power in the hands of a few self-interested individuals, greediness, and corruption have weakened Somalia’s standing in the region. Today, Somalia has no influence on its own territorial affairs let alone over regional and international affairs. It’s now considered a political non-entity. In fact, many Somali nationals, academics, and experts argue convincingly that Somalia is not now an independent country.

Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Influence

IGAD—and particularly Kenya and Ethiopia—are now the principal decision makers on Somali policies and have more influence on Somali affairs than does the country’s Mogadishu-based Federal Government (FG). Many experts argue that Kenya and Ethiopia have united to micromanage Somali affairs. The argument that Kenya and Ethiopia are collaborating to prevent stronger, more stable, and democratic governance in Somalia is not very helpful. Both Kenya and Ethiopia, like all nations, have political, economic, and security interests, and the countries have directed their focus, attention, and resources toward how to further those national interests. Kenya’s strategic, economic, and security interests are not necessarily in line with Ethiopia’s and may often be in conflict. Each is constantly working hard to pursue and defend its interests and is willing to pay a huge price in terms sacrifice, and patience. Both Kenya and Ethiopia’s interests are well known and clear; what is unknown so far is Somalia’s own national interest.

Kenya’s Miscalculation Dilemma

Many Somalis had long perceived Kenya as a weak, marginally democratic, and extremely corrupt country that was neutral regarding Somali affairs. That perception of neutrality attracted many Somali refugees and diaspora Somalis to relocate to Kenya. They have invested heavily in all parts of Kenya, although investment has concentrated in Nairobi, Mombasa, and the North Eastern Province. Their businesses have injected the country’s struggling economy with resources and have created more jobs. When an influx of Somali refugees first arrived in Kenya in the early 1990s, ethnic Somali Kenyans were the poorest segment of society in Kenya, and the North Eastern Province was the least developed region in the country. Somali Kenyans were also politically underrepresented and faced all sorts of state discriminatory practices. Thanks to the influx of immigrants from Somalia, however, Somali Kenyans are today considered to be the third or fourth most affluent ethnic group in Kenya. Unfortunately, Somali Kenyans often do not view matters this way, choosing to believe that Somalis have been a burden rather than a source of support. Kenya’s government has consistently blamed many, if not all, problems in Kenya on Somali refugees, ignoring the fact that Somali refugees, along with the Somali diaspora in Kenya, have served as the ATMs for many Kenyans. A friend of mine from Atlanta, Georgia, who works for a U.S. government-funded project in East Africa recently told me upon his return from Kenya that Somalis have large market shares in real estate, transportation, oil and gas, imports, exports, and wholesale businesses and that Somalis cannot be ignored despite being refugees or diaspora from Europe and America. For example, the Somali-owned market in Eastleigh, Nairobi, is the largest in the region.

And unfortunately, Kenya is no longer perceived as neutral with regard to Somali national affairs. It’s seen as a neighboring country that wants to fuel the problems and challenges facing Somalia, with an aim of eventually seizing parts of Somalia. Feeding into this perception, Kenya has engineered the false maritime dispute claim that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Somali parliament in 2009. After that unsuccessful effort, Kenya changed its strategy and sent its troops to Somalia unilaterally and without the consent of the Somali government. In the end, negotiations took place that agreed to include Kenyan troops in an AMISOM mission in Somalia to legitimize Kenya’s presence in the country.

In contrast to what the Kenyan government has been publicly asserting, Kenya has collectively mistreated and punished all Somalis in Kenya, regardless of whether they are Kenyan citizens or not. The relationship between Somalia and Kenya can be defined by what has been happening to Somali nationals in Kenya for the past few weeks. The two countries have different political systems and structural framework values. Through its poor leadership, individualistic policies, and collective punishment for anyone of Somali ethnic background, including Somali Kenyans, Kenya has miscalculated the results of its policies and has created a dangerous situation for its peoples.

Kenyan leadership may presumably intend to take advantage of Somalis’ weakness, preying upon a clannish and divisive society. What Kenyan leaders don’t know is that Somali affairs are more complex and sophisticated than Kenyans can understand. Kenya went too far by violating both regional and international human rights conventions and accepted norms. It has irritated Somalis regardless of political ideology, class, and region, both inside and outside Somalia. Many Somalis have expressed their concerns about Kenya’s illegal occupation in parts of Somalia. The occupation is arguably linked to Kenya’s widely perceived desire to annex the Jubas and Gedo regions of Somalia. Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and several other organizations and governments have condemned the Kenyan forces’ consistent human rights violations against Somalis and have expressed serious concerns. The unfolding crisis in Kenya against Somalis aims to humiliate Somalis publicly, showing Kenyans that their country is close to reaching its goal of annexing some parts of Somalia. Kenyans are ignoring the fact that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are accused of violence that has erupted in Kenya and that the current administration is shunned by the Western world. Invading Somalia is Kenya’s worst strategic security mistake, and choosing Kenyatta was probably another terrible mistake that has already significantly affected Kenya economically, politically, and with regard to national security.

Unfortunately, parliamentarians and politicians from North Eastern Province, a heavily Somali region of Kenya, play a negative and divisive clan-affiliated card that worsened the situation. Several of them have used the Somali-speaking media to convey ill-advised messages that create suspicions within the Somali community…

In general, Somali Kenyan MPs, government officials, politicians, traditional and religious leaders, and business leaders have some leverage to use in both Kenya and Somalia. If they are eager and honest about solving this issue, and are not deeply involved in the clan-affiliated dirty politics happening in Somalia, they can understand the root causes of the problem and of how to handle it better than any Kenyan president or cabinet member can. The question is whether the Somali Kenyan representatives are free from Somalia’s clannish politics and are ready to build bridges between their country of Kenya, and their ethnic home of Somalia. So far, the leading members of the group have proven themselves to be deeply and negatively involved in Somali’s dirty clan politics and unable to play effectives roles as a result.

Somalia’s Struggling Leadership

Government institutions and the balance of power both play important roles in national, regional and international security. As in the case of Somalia, understanding how threats and policy responses are identified and constructed by leaders and their superiors in front of the public is critical for understanding national and regional security dynamics. Due to Somalia’s poor understanding of its region’s security dynamics, the country was placed in isolation by its neighbors. Somalia is now a patient on life support, administered by Ethiopia and Kenya. Somalia’s leaders have consistently failed to articulate their interests in national, regional and international policy platforms. They have also failed to understand the regional security framework, how to interact with the region’s framework, and how to respond to regional security issues appropriately.

Somalia’s leadership must understand that it’s a dangerous mistake not to present and articulate its positions clearly; failing to do so creates ambiguity. The Somali government’s position toward Kenya’s consistent discrimination, human rights violations, and torture practices is not clear, and this has already created uncertainty among Somalis. The Somali leadership should come forward and state its position on the matter. The country’s leadership has failed to engage and convince its nationals that the Somali government represents them and that the government is doing everything possible to address their critical situation. Somalis feel completely disconnected, disengaged, and unrepresented nationally, regionally and internationally.

President Hassan’s visit to Nairobi, at a time when Kenyan was massively, illegally, and abusively persecuting, looting, beating, and indiscriminately arresting Somalis in the capital, is a clear indication that the current administration in Somalia lacks governmental responsibility, clear leadership guidance, and the technical expertise to govern well. Both Somalia and Kenya are heading in the wrong direction under their current leaderships. Somalia is already a troubled and failed state, but Kenyan citizens need to reassess the situation and think strategically about their government’s policy toward Somalia before it is too late and the situation reaches an irreversible state.

Abdirashid Sh-Ali Ahmed is a public policy and international development analyst. He can be reached at: