The relationship between Kenya and Somalia continues to deteriorate, with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo threatening to expel Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops stationed in his country.
Regional leaders are expected to hold a meeting in Djibouti today (Sunday) that could feature Farmaajo and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta.
The threat on KDF comes days after Somalia expelled Kenyan diplomats in a memo sent to Nairobi at1am. On Friday, Defence CS Monica Juma cancelled a press conference at Kenya Army Headquarters at the eleventh hour.
“Everything was set but she did not turn up,” a senior military official told the Nation.
Farmaajo wants Eritrean soldiers to replace KDF in the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom).
“Our presence in Somalia is governed by Amisom agreements,” Col Zipporah Kioko, the KDF Spokesperson, said.
Under the agreement that governs Amisom’s Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs), the host government cannot withdraw consent from such a country.
Somalia has dispatched officials to Amisom TTCs and other influential states in an anti-Kenya campaign.
The 38th Extraordinary Summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) has been preceded with a dispute over agenda.
Initially called by chairman and Sudanese PM Abdalla Hamdok to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, the agenda had by Friday been altered to Covid-19 response.
Ethiopia fought discussing Tigray at Igad level, insisting it is an internal matter.
Somalia accused Kenya of interfering in its affairs and forced Kenyan ambassador Lucas Tumbo to leave. It recalled its envoy in Nairobi, Mahmud Ahmed Nur Tarzan.
Later, Mogadishu wrote to Igad seeking to have the issue discussed at the summit. That was before Somalia officially cut diplomatic ties with Nairobi.
The question is if Igad will resolve the matter, given that most of its members have interests in Somalia. Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki may not even be at the summit.
Afwerki has been helping train Somalia troops. Eritrea is involved in a border dispute with Djibouti.
Until recently, Qatari troops were stationed at the disputed border but were withdrawn when Djibouti sided with Saudi Arabia as Gulf nations imposed a blockade on Doha. Eritrea also backed Riyadh.
Asmara suspended itself from Igad in 2006, protesting the dominance of Ethiopia’s TPLF regime. Eritrea has since mended fences with Addis Ababa.
Horn of Africa analyst and director of Southlink Consultants Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad said Igad members have divergent policies on Somalia.
“Ethiopia and Kenya are not reading from the same script. It will be important if they harmonise their views. This is no time for proxies,” he said.
“Kenya should lie low until after the (Somalia) elections. Whoever wins may be willing to talk.”
During a forum on Kenya-Somalia relations on Thursday, Mr Ahmed Mohamed, senior adviser at the Horn Institute, told the audience that every Igad member has problems affecting other countries.
“There are competing influences of Mogadishu’s neighbours and a desire to have an ally in Villa Somalia. Farmaajo is attempting to control the impact of regional influences,” he said.
“Foreign interference has taken a toll on Somalia. Somalia is at war with herself and neighbours.”
Information minister Osman Dubbe said in severing ties, Somalia was responding to “the political abuse and interference by Kenya on our independence”.
The move came as Nairobi hosted Somaliland President Muse Bihi, with whom Kenya agreed to start direct flights and set up a consulate in Hargeisa by March.
Farmaajo’s reaction baffled many since his administration had endorsed Kenya’s application to set up a diplomatic outpost in Hargeisa.
Shadrack Kuyo, a senior adviser at the Horn Centre, said the Somali President is escalating tensions to win another term.
“He rode to power in 2017 on the back of anti-Ethiopian sentiments,” Kuyo said.
Somalia is unhappy that Jubbaland President Ahmed Madobe has threatened to stop elections in his state unless the national army pulls out of Gedo.
Last week, Mogadishu witnessed protests against the teams set up to officiate elections, with opposition candidates demanding their disbandment.
Amid the chaos, officials in Nairobi worry al-Shabaab could thrive.
Mr Zadock Syong’oh, a former assistant minister, argued that Somalia’s situation makes it hard to relate with the centre alone.
Abdiwahab said the role of Gulf countries like Qatar has become too crucial to ignore, especially as they fund the government and some candidates.
Western countries like the US and the United Kingdom as well as Turkey, which is the biggest humanitarian aid provider to Somalia, have had influence on the country.
The federal government of Somalia Saturday intensified its diplomatic assault in a statement warning Kenya against supporting a “rebel group” based in Mandera to attack Somali forces based in Beled Hawa.
The statement was referring to Jubbaland forces based on the Kenyan side of the border.
The Nation did not witness any unusual military movements in Mandera.