By MALKHADIR M MUHUMED
Kenya: Somalia’s state minister for Foreign Affairs, Buri Mohamed Hamza, has expressed concern over the recent arrest of a Somali diplomat, Siyad Mohamud Shire in Nairobi.
He, however, hopes the incident would not lead to serious diplomatic strains between the two neighbouring countries. In an exclusive interview with The Standard on Sunday, Hamza called on the Kenyan government to ‘exercise restraint’ in its handling of Somalis living on its soil to help boost ties. “We are saddened by the incident, but hope to overcome this difference,” he said.
Since last month, Kenyan security forces have been carrying out security swoops in Nairobi amid security threats. Consequently, nearly 300 Somalis were deported to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, in a move that angered many ordinary Somalis and put more pressure on the Somali government to retaliate.
See also: Kenyans triumph: Kiprop, Sum and Obiri dominate at the IAAF Doha Diamond League Rights activists have condemned the swoops, saying it is profiling Somalis in the country, an allegation the Kenyan government denies.
Still, Somalia’s government is unhappy with the way the operation is being conducted. This saw Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed calling on the Kenyan government to “approach” it “in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of innocent Somalis in Kenya.”
Over the last two decades, Kenya has borne the brunt of hosting thousands of Somali refugees, and Nairobi, recently started pushing for their return to their now recovering country.
The tie between the two countries has grown inflamed in recent years over a range of issues, including Nairobi’s decision to send troops to Somalia in 2011 to take the battle to the Somali-based militants of al-Shabaab.
Kenya’s support for a regional initiative to set up an interim administration in the port city of Kismayu has also frayed their ties, with Mogadishu initially working against such efforts before grudgingly coming around to the idea.
Kenya whose troops were later folded into the African Union Mission in Somalia, accuses the al-Qaeda-linked militants of carrying out a string of low-level attacks and kidnappings on its soil. Al-Shabaab fighters allegedly attacked an upscale mall in Nairobi killing 67 people.
So, when the Kenyan police last month shortly arrested Mohamud, the consular of the Somali Embassy in Kenya during the security operation in Nairobi, it was certain to anger Somalia’s top leaders. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called it ‘unacceptable’.
Mogadishu has sent a protest letter to the Kenyan government requesting an explanation over the arrest, which it termed ‘a serious violation of diplomatic immunity.’ It has also recalled its Ambassador to Kenya, Mohamed Ali Nur, for further consultations.
“The two neighbors must seek amicable solutions to the crisis,” said Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad of the Kenyatta University.
Hamza said such “incidents” have the potential to “jeopardise” ties between the two countries if are not contained in time. “Both countries should quell these differences,” Hamza said.
Diamond League Much to Somali officials’ chagrin, Nairobi insists it would not relent in the ongoing security swoop in the predominantly Somali-populated estate of Eastleigh.
Irate Somalis are now calling for the ban of khat, stimulant leaves, popularly known as miraa, imported from Kenya. But Hamza warned of using the arrest as an excuse to take retaliatory steps against Kenya, saying, “If we stop importing miraa (khat’s name in Kenya), so much the better…It has rendered us weak and caused problems among families.”
Attempts to reach Kenya’s Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed on her cellphone failed as it was switched off.
Reached by phone from Mogadishu, Ambassador Nur said Kenya provided satisfactory response to his country’s protest letter, although he didn’t clearly say if Kenya officially apologised for the diplomat’s arrest as Mogadishu earlier demanded.
Nur said he would return to Nairobi over the weekend. Analysts are urging both countries to de-escalate the tension.
“It is important that the two countries avoid any further escalation of what is an already visibly a deteriorating relationship,” said Mohamed Gaas, a Norwegian analyst on Somali affairs and a research fellow at the Oslo, Norway-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies.
Hamza echoed the same sentiment saying, “We are neighbors. We should benefit from each other”. He also urged both countries not to allow current differences to escalate further.
In his April 28 statement, Somalia’s Prime Minister Ahmed said his government would continues to express “serious concerns over the detention of law abiding Somali citizens in Kenya.”
“Somalis in Kenya have been facing hardships due to the ongoing security operation by the Kenyan forces that has resulted in mass detentions,” said Ahmed.
The mass round-ups of Somalis have drawn condemnations from rights groups, with the Human Rights Watch urging Nairobi to stop what it called as “arbitrary arrests and detentions, extortion, and other abuses against Somalis during security operations”
“Scapegoating and abusing Somalis for heinous attacks by unknown people is not going to protect Kenyans, Somalis, or anyone else against more attacks,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Kenya’s deportation of Somalis to their conflict-ridden country without allowing them to seek asylum would be a flagrant breach of its legal obligations.” Hamza has also warned that if the Kenyan police continue arresting Somali diplomats and other Somalis in the country, there will be “a discontent” from both the government and the Somali public. “We hope Kenya will exercise restraint on how they’re dealing with the Somali refugees,” he said, praising Kenya’s role in Somali peace processes.
Hamza said Somali and Kenya’s relationship would see improvements when Kenya opens its embassy in Mogadishu in coming months.
“This will of course ease communication between us and the Kenyan government,” he said.