Days after Somalia suspended diplomatic ties with Kenya over Nairobi’s decision to bolster ties with Somaliland, Mogadishu is now faced with the prospect of severing ties with both Djibouti and Malawi as well, after authorities from both countries met with officials from Somaliland.
On Wednesday, Somaliland President Muse Bihi arrived in Djibouti to meet with President Ismael Guelleh, and was welcomed with a red-carpet reception. Likewise, over the weekend, Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Eisenhower Mkaka, held ‘undisclosed’ talks with Bihi in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa.
Mkaka was accompanied by Martin Toon, an adviser to President Lazarus Chakwera, and William Bambi, a representative from the Department of Foreign Affairs for Africa and the Middle East. Also in attendance were Somaliland’s Vice President, the ministers for foreign affairs, the interior, and finance, as well as the deputy foreign minister.
Although Malawi has not commented on the meeting, Somaliland’s foreign affairs department released a statement saying that the two parties “held wide-ranging discussions on matters of mutual interest”. Djibouti already has a representative office in Hargeisa, although it has continued to maintain close relations with Somalia.
Bihi’s meetings with Djiboutian and Malawian officials follows his meeting with Kenyan authorities, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, in Nairobi from December 13 to 16. During his talks with Bihi, the Kenyan leader expressed his interest in opening a consulate in Hargeisa by the end of March and said he would initiate flights from Nairobi to Somaliland’s capital city in the near future as well.
In response to the growing ties between Kenya and Somaliland, Mogadishu has now suspended all diplomatic ties with neighboring Nairobi, alleging interference in its domestic affairs. Last year, Somalia cut ties with Guinea over the same issue.
Kenya, for its part, has said that it will not expel Somali diplomats. Somaliland, too, has said that it will not enforce the Somali government’s order to expel Kenyans from its region.
Somalia has also lodged a formal complaint with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is currently chaired by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The IGAD is comprised of Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. However, the body failed to reach a consensus on the matter and excluded the dispute from the joint communique released following IGADs 38th Extraordinary Summit.
Somaliland is a self-proclaimed country that declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but is considered by most international actors and Mogadishu itself to be a part of Somalia. Hence, Kenya’s actions are seeing as legitimising a separatist group.
Kenya and Somalia are also embroiled in a maritime dispute over oil and gas resources which are located off the coast of the state of Jubaland, which is home to the crucial Somali port of Kismayo.
In fact, in February 2019, Kenya recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu after Somalia attempted to auction oil and gas exploration blocks that were still being contested by the two nations.
It is unclear what these latest developments will mean for peacekeeping in the region, given that Kenya has deployed 3,600 troops to Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) counterterrorism operation against al-Shabab.
The latest meeting between Somaliland officials with their counterparts from Djibouti and Malawi threatens to add to the list of countries in Somalia’s neighbourhood whom Mogadishu has severed diplomatic ties with. Sooner or later, as this list continues to grow, the Somali government will have to weigh the costs of not engaging in dialogue with Somaliland.
Statecraft is a digital global affairs daily that investigates the relationship between the politics of South Asia and the world at large.
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