Kenya has cemented its diplomatic presence in Mogadishu with a new embassy building, as it seeks to improve formal trade relations with Somalia.
The new building means Nairobi will no longer be renting space for its diplomatic mission, allowing officials to conduct business better.
The revelation came after a delegation of top Foreign Affairs officials from Nairobi toured Mogadishu on Saturday to discuss co-operation in the face of what they called political and security problems both sides have faced.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said Kenya sees business ties as a better way to improve the overall relations between the countries.
PS Kamau said that despite the current problems facing Somalia and Kenya for the last 10 years, both sides can benefit more if they open trading links.
“These should not be allowed to stand in the way of what would be enormous benefits that would accrue to both nations should cooperation and business be nurtured between the two states,” he said after his delegation met with Somalia’s Foreign Affairs PS Mohamed Ali-Nur Haji.
Both Somalia and Kenya have faced continual attacks from Somali militant group al-Shabaab.
Kenya has troops fighting as the African Union Mission in Somalia forces, which is due to exit Somalia from next year according to an announced plan. Yet political relations between the two sides have at times led to public altercations and accusations.
Somalia also sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice, seeking to redraw a maritime boundary between them.
Nairobi, however, thinks political and security challenges facing Somalia can be resolved gradually as both sides focus on boosting business ties.
“The promise of trade and business exchanges between the two peoples of Kenya and Somalia is phenomenal. It could be transformational for both economies and societies if what we have seen of the offshoots of development in Nairobi’s Eastleigh and other suburbs, as well as in Mombasa and even in the refugee camp area of Dadaab is anything to go by,” he said referring to areas in Kenya most populated by Somalis.
About 1.5 million migrants from Somalia live in Kenya, although a third of them could be in refugee camps, a result of years of insecurity and climate change.
On the other hand, Somalia hosts about 35,000 Kenyans, working mostly in the hospitality and humanitarian sectors.
PS Kamau led a delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to assess the working conditions of diplomats posted to Mogadishu.
The officials routinely tour embassies abroad but the focus on Mogadishu may indicate a turning point in the countries’ relations.
Previously, the embassy had a lean team, mostly focused on security cooperation. Last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Maj-Gen (rtd) Thomas Chepkuto to deputise Maj-Gen (rtd) Lucas Tumbo, the current Ambassador to Somalia.
Maj-Gen Tumbo clarified that the construction of the embassy was completed in 2019. It is due to be fully occupied from next month following installation of workspace equipment etc.
Officials in Nairobi say the new improvements in personnel and working environment will add to ways both countries can find “common prosperity” for the people.
“To assume that the challenges must be fully resolved first before we can engage in business and cooperation is to be naïve and not to understand the fundamentals of development,” PS Kamau told the Nation.
Kenya and Somalia, he said, have been working behind-the-scenes under a mechanism called Joint Commission of Cooperation (JCC). However, the proposals the Commission fronted have not yet been implemented.
Kenya says it will continue to open training opportunities for Somalis, as Somalia’s opening economy provides business opportunities for Kenyans.
“The reality is that other countries have seen the potential of Somalia,” PS Kamau said.
“Somalia is on the cusp of a turnaround that could position it as an important country for business, trade and cooperation.”
Major national carriers in the region already fly to Somalia, including Uganda Airlines, Djibouti Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines. Kenya Airways is yet to start flying to Mogadishu despite showing intent.