Bihi hosts Kenyan delegation in Hargeisa as Gambia rejects Somaliland's recognition
HARGEISA, Somalia - As part of ongoing efforts to push for international recognition after decades of despair, Somaliland continued with its diplomatic missions abroad, this time hosting a powerful Kenyan delegation in Hargeisa, a move which could strain the relationship between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
Junet Mohamed, Kenya's National Assembly Minority Whip and a close associate of opposition bigwig Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta led a delegation of businessmen, politicians, and investors to Hargeisa, where they met with President Muse Bihi Abdi.
Somaliland's Foreign Affairs department updated the progress on the official Twitter account saying: "The president of the Republic of Somaliland H.E Muse Bihi Abdi accompanied by the Minister and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs received a high-level delegation from Kenya."
A similar message was reinforced by Mohamed Ali Bile, the Director-General for the presidency in Hargeisa, terming the visit as "official". The meeting at the Presidential Palace, he noted, discussed "Relations with Kenya is expanding in the recent times".
In Kenya's National Assembly, Junet Mohamed is the senior-most Somali leader and is one of the insiders of Odinga, a veteran politician who commands huge following within Kenya and Africa. His seniority was preceded by the sacking of Aden Duale a fortnight ago, after serving as Majority Leader for almost eight years.
Kenya's shift of interest to Somaliland could anger Mogadishu and probably affect the fragile relationship with Nairobi, which has been severely influenced by the Indian Ocean maritime dispute and Kenya Defense Forces' role in Jubaland, a federal-state which serves as KDF's buffer zone in the fight against Al-Shabaab.
The presence of KDF in Jubaland and it's alleged involvement in Somalia's internal politics has often threatened to disintegrate the relationship between the two nations. Last year, Somalia accused Kenya of "imposing" Jubaland leader Ahmed Madobe on people, and the situation has been tense in recent weeks at Balad-Hawo, a town which borders with Kenya in the northeast.
Curiously, the trip by Kenyan delegation also comes amid ongoing negotiations between Somalia and Somaliland, which were brokered by Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh and Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy. The outcome of the talks is expected to be made public in a month's time.
Somaliland seceded from Somalia in 1991 and long spells of a civil war which was engineered by the regime of dictator Siad Barre, who would later be ousted. There have been talks to reunite the two parties, a move which informed the decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to issue a formal apology to Hargeisa in February.
But despite the efforts, Somaliland, which runs a parallel administration with a legislature and executive, has often vowed to defend its urge for self-determination. Bihi made it clear that the reunion was "impractical" but insisted that "we can cooperate on areas of mutual interests" during the Djibouti meeting.
The Kenyan factor
Although Somaliland is not formally recognized worldwide, it has official representatives in quite a number of countries worldwide, and Kenya happens to be one of them. The breakaway region is represented by Bashe Omar in Nairobi.
Last year, Somaliland's Foreign Affairs minister Yasin Mohammed Hiir asked Kenyan investors to explore the region for future investments during a meeting in Nairobi. He was one of the organisers of Friday's meeting in Hargeisa.
“Come and work with us in building the great nation of Somaliland; we have so many opportunities," Hiir told investors in November 2019, citing improved security and hospitality of Somaliland, which has existed now for decades.
Like Kenya, Somaliland is a former British protectorate that gained independence in June 1960. It later unified with the Trust Territory of Somalia [colonized by Italy] to form the Somali Republic, but the marriage was dissolved in 1991.
Recently, Omar, who had appeared for an interview with Kenya's KTN, hailed the cooperation between Kenya and Somaliland, adding that the trade between the two has significantly improved over the years.
"We share a long history together. But beyond that, we want to strengthen our ties especially in areas of trade. I am confident this delegation will come back with positive stories about our country," he told the Kenya Television Network [KTN].
Records in Kenya's Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicate that there are hundreds of Kenyans who work in the hospitality and education sectors in Somaliland. The region has it's own currency and a functional judiciary as well.
The Kenyan delegation's trip also comes just hours after The Gambia, a tiny West African nation, rejected calls for Hargeisa to be internationally recognized, a blow to the spirited determination by Muse Bihi to put the region on the global map.
The Freedom Newspaper, a publication in Banjul, reported that the country's foreign affairs minister Momodou Tangara told parliament that African Union will not be championing Somaliland's global recognition.
“Foreign Minister Tangara warned that it would be irresponsible for The Gambian government to engage in such illegitimate diplomacy,” the publication reported, a gesture that The Gambia will support Mogadishu should that debate emerge in Addis Ababa.
It's just on Thursday that China scolded Somaliland for signing a cooperation deal with Taiwan, an East Asia island commonly called the Republic of China, which Beijing has claimed for decades now despite its decision to secede.
The Gambia had officially recognized Taiwan in 1996 but former President Yahya Jammeh announced an end to the status in 2013. Jammeh has since been ousted after losing an election which was preceded by demonstrations.
In a tweet on Thursday, the Chinese embassy in Mogadishu dismissed Taiwan's deal with Somaliland as "illegal", adding that the island is a territory of the People's Republic of China, further saying that "we have one China'.
“We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party to separate any piece of territory from China at any time or in any form. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” read some of the tweets by the Chinese embassy in Mogadishu.
The embassy added, “There is only one China in the world. Taiwan is a part of China and the government of PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.”
Rashid Abdi, an analyst on the Horn of Africa affairs, says that the dialogue between Somalia and Somaliland may hit deadlock "if they go to the negotiating table with a fixed mind". The two, he adds, must be ready to accept "win-win situation".
Should Somaliland manage to maneuver the impediments and get recognized, it will be the 55th country in Africa. South Sudan was the last country to attain sovereignty status after voting en mass to cut links with Sudan in 2011, after several decades of civil war.