NAIROBI, Kenya - The journey for recognition of Somaliland, a secessionist state of Somalia may have after all kicked off in Nairobi, a top official has confirmed to Garowe Online, following a motion moved by Kenya's cabinet, which among others, will review the merits of recognizing the northern breakaway region.
Somaliland claims it seceded from Somalia in 1991, a year after the civil war broke out in the country. The northern regions had gained independence from Britain on June 26, 1960, and merged with southern regions six days later, to form the Republic of Somalia.
However, despite the decision to end the rock marriage with Mogadishu, Somaliland has not been formally recognized as a sovereign state by the international community, but runs a solid parallel functional government, with an independent judiciary, parliament, and executive.
Since 1991, the region has been funding shuttle diplomatic missions for recognition, but most trips have not succeeded. The latest battle, however, has been picked by Kenya, which is keen to push stability in the Horn of Africa region, by forming alliances with neighbors in a bid to push for Somalia's stability.
The motion to recognize Somaliland as an independent nation was discussed by Kenya's cabinet in July and the team has recruited a technical team that will carefully study the merits and demerits of the motion. President Uhuru Kenyatta is leading the cabinet in the debate, the source said.
Cabinet will receive the final reports from the technical committee before making a determination, which could significantly affect regional integration and geopolitics, and perhaps shape the destiny of Somaliland forever, said the source, who did not wish to be named due to sensitivity of the matter.
"Our cabinet is discussing possibilities of recognizing Somaliland and this debate has been going on for a while," said the source, adding, "they will continue to talk about it after analyzing recommendations from a team of experts and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
In the coming weeks, the source, who is conversant with the debate, Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi will be visiting Nairobi, where he will be senior government officials. The Somaliland leader will be accompanied by top officials from Hargeisa, but it's not clear if he will meet President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Although no definite date has been set for his visit, the official notes, he will be given a state reception which is accorded to other visiting head of states and governments, but "there will be no military presence because it amounts to a violation of UN treaty on the relationship between states".
"Incoming weeks, we are going to have Somaliland delegation in Nairobi, and their leader, Muse Bihi will be the chief guest. The government is yet to confirm the date and am not sure if it will come before or after cabinet resolutions," he said, noting that the military will, however, not be within the vicinity of the airport.
Reports about cabinet's ongoing deliberations come weeks after a Kenyan delegation led by Minority Whip Junet Mohamed visited Hargeisa. The team held a closed-door meeting with President Bihi Abdi, with the Somaliland Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that the two parties discussed the "bilateral" relationship between Kenya and Somaliland.
Multiple sources had told Garowe Online that the delegation went to prepare for the planned visit of Raila Odinga to Hargeisa. While no date was given, sources said Odinga, Kenya's opposition leader and one of the respected eminent persons in Africa, will "play a big role" in Somaliland's quest for statehood.
Junet Mohamed is one of Raila's confidants. Although Mohamed did not publicly comment about his trip to Hargeisa, one of his aides, Seth Odongo, hinted a possible role by Kenya in Somaliland's quest for nationhood in a tweet about two weeks ago.
"Kenya’s UNSC will be critical for Somaliland quest for statehood, which is all the more important, for this country has demonstrated to the community of nations that it can keep all its obligations," he said in a tweet, which he tagged Somaliland's representative to Kenya, Bashe Omar.
Somaliland established a liaison office in Nairobi which is headed by Bashe Awil Omar, who has been pushing for recognition of Somaliland. Kenya has also expressed interest in setting up a consulate in Hargeisa, following the exponential growth of Kenyan's population in Somaliland.
In June, Kenya was elected as Africa's non-permanent representative at the United Nations Security Council [UNSC], a position which makes it an ideal state to champion for Somaliland's interest. Curiously, Kenya was opposed by Somalia, which supported Djibouti, a move that could have informed the current bid to recognize Somaliland.
When asked about the latest development, Omar said that "I can give details, for now, let's keep in touch". But in an interview with Garowe Online a fortnight ago, Ambassador Omar said that should Kenya recognize Somaliland, "it will be a tremendous advantage to us".
Recently, Somaliland received a huge boost when the White House National Security Council approved her relationship with Taiwan, another secessionist state of China. The two "nations" had signed cooperation agreement much to the detriment of Somalia and China, who protested the move.
Further, Somaliland has also been the epicenter of the tussle between Ethiopia and Egypt in recent weeks. Egypt had expressed intentions to establish a military base in Somaliland, a move that rattled Ethiopia, which has since decided to dispatch a full envoy to Hargeisa, a blessing in for Somaliland.
Dismas Mokua, a political analyst contends that Kenya would prefer to work with Somaliland as a strategy to "weaken" Somalia. The cabinet move, he adds, "would help Kenya to have a reliable partner in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia".
Nairobi has been closely working with Hargeisa and the federal state of Jubaland, irking Mogadishu in the process. Jubaland is used by the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] as a buffer zone in the fight against Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda linked group which controls large swathes of rural southern and central Somalia.