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Kenya frees 11 MPs arrested over "secret" trip to Somalia

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - Authorities in Nairobi released eleven legislators who were briefly detained on Sunday after a short trip to Somalia, although no immediate explanation was given.

The legislators had left Nairobi on Saturday for Mogadishu, with the government terming the trip "mysterious" thus the dramatic detention upon arrival.

Acting on a tip from Kenya's spy agency, NIS, police kept surveillance on Jomo Kenyatta and Wilson airports, before pouncing on them at the former.

They included Kullow Maalim [Banisa], Ahmed Kolosh [Wajir West], Ibrahim Abdi [Lafey], Rashid Kassim [Wajir East], Mohammed Hire (Lagdera), Omar Salah Maalim [Mandera East], Bashir Abdullahi [Mandera North], Adan Haji [Mandera West], Adan Ali sheikh [Mandera South], Mohamed Dahir [Dadaab] and Ahmed Bashane of Tarbaj.

Intelligence reports revealed that while at Somalia, the MPs held secret meetings with the Horn of Africa nation's spy chief Fahad Yasin, who has been calling shots in Somalia's domestic affairs.

The spy chief is accused of fueling tensions in Gedo, a region within the semi-autonomous state of Jubaland, a reason that motivated Kenya's security to trail the MPs, a security source said.

Somalia deployed SNA troops to Gedo, much to the discomfort of Kenya, which mans part of Jubaland through KDF under AMISOM. The US also termed Mogadishu's decision "unacceptable".

And upon arrival at JKIA aboard Freedom Airlines, the MPs, who had also not undergone a standard procedure for clearance for State officers before travelling, were held by security forces.

Muriithi Kangi, a security secretary, told reporters that the MPs were not interrogated, but only had a "discussion" with government security officers.

"Of concern was the fact that they travelled to Somalia without the requisite clearance and on a matter that is not clear to the government," he said.

MPs deny meeting Fahad Yasin

With intelligence officers linking the MPs with a possible meeting with Fahad Yasin, the NISA boss in Somalia, the legislators, however, downplayed the reports as "cheap propaganda".

Of their concern, the MPs argued, were contemporary security challenges along the Kenya-Somalia border and the possible strategies of eradicating the Al-Shabaab militants.

Adan Haji Yusuf, the Mandera West MP, said the team held a closed-door meeting with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, in which they also discussed the relationship between the two nations.

"We went to Mogadishu, Somalia to meet with only President Farmajo and discussed various issues among the security," he said. "Today, we were questioned at JKIA, found with nothing and released immediately."

Bashir Abdullahi, the MP for Mandera North, also said "our main aim was to discuss security challenges among them fight against Al-Shabaab. We also asked Farmajo to stop unnecessary press onslaught against Kenya".

However, it's unclear why the MPs would advance such an agenda, without the involvement of ministry of foreign affairs, although they insisted that "we were acting following Uhuru's challenge".

Uhuru's directive to NEP leaders

But the name of President Uhuru Kenyatta kept emerging in the MPs' in-depth explanation about their trip, a move that could have contributed to their release.

Rashid Kassim, the Wajir East MP, said "we were challenged with President Uhuru Kenyatta to find a lasting solution to our problems", adding that the move "inspired" their trip.

Currently, learning has been paralysed at the northeastern region which comprises of Garissa, Mandera and Wajir, following a mass exodus of non-local teachers over Al-Shabaab menace.

At State House last week, the leaders' audience with Kenyatta did not amicably solve the matter, with Uhuru reportedly blaming locals for escalating Al-Shabaab raids.

To solve the matter, Uhuru urged the leaders to find a "homegrown" solution as a supplement to security forces' efforts, a source told Garowe Online on phone.

Statistics show that since January, there have been 16 attacks waged by Al-Shabaab, with eight of them taking place in Garissa County.

Teachers' employer TSC defended transferring non-local teachers, arguing that "life to our employees supersedes right to education".

Somalia trip causes mixed reactions

Despite the release of the MPs, their trip triggered mixed reactions, with commentators weighing between basic rights and respect to organisational procedures.

Donald Korir, an advocate of the High Court, asked authorities to charge the enemies with "treason", arguing that they "colluded" with enemies.

But a section of northeastern leaders defended the trip, insisting that it was done in good faith and to the "well-being" of the country.

"The constitution is express in the Bill of Rights in that every Kenyan has freedom of movement and association," said Farah Maalim, a former Deputy Speaker, adding that "speaker's permission was unnecessary".

Billow Kerrow, the former Mandera senator, said: "Let those paranoid about NE people and their leaders know that we are not guests of anyone in Kenya".

Suspicions between Kenya and Somalia have been high in recent weeks, following the Gedo stalemate, which saw FGS deploy troops to the region.

Mogadishu has been accusing Nairobi of "interference of internal politics of Somalia" in reference to KDF's alleged protection of Jubaland leader Ahmed Madobe.

With tensions high in the region near the Kenya border, analysts warn that the standoff could pave room for a resurgence of Al-Shabaab militants, who have been drastically neutralised by security forces.

"Shabaab laughing! Kenya must focus on countering and defeating Shabaab insurgency within its five northeastern," Andrew Franklin, a former Marine Corp tweeted.

Farmajo has been blamed by opposition leaders of meddling in internal affairs of federal states to the advantage of his political expediency, further causing unending squabbles in Somalia.


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