Uhuru's team meets Ethiopian PM over brewing tensions in Gedo days after Villa Somalia trip
NAIROBI, Kenya - A high level delegation was dispatched to Addis Ababa by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday, details have emerged, amid brewing border tensions between Kenya and Somalia.
Turkish-trained SNA contingent clashed with regional Jubaland troops at Balad-Hawo in Gedo, with the fighting spilling over to neighbouring Mandera thus necessitating Kenya's fury last week.
On Sunday, Uhuru dispatched a delegation under Interior Minister Dr. Fred Matiang'i to Mogadishu, who held closed-door session with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
The team returned to Addis Ababa on Tuesday, and subsequently held a meeting with Ethiopian PM Mr. Ahmed, who has projected himself as a global peace ambassador, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 in recognition to his unrelenting efforts.
Interior ministry confirmed the Ethiopian trip, saying the delegation was dispatched by Uhuru to hold talks with Dr. Ahmed "with a view to identifying more collaborative approaches to advance Kenya's mutual cross-border relations with Somalia".
No immediate response was given by the Ethiopian team over Kenya's mission, although the two nations have been having cordial relationship dating back to the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie.
Ethiopia's role in Gedo
The team had convinced Farmajo to visit Nairobi upon the invitation by President Uhuru Kenyatta to discuss the deteriorating relationship between Mogadishu and Nairobi, Villa Somalia said.
In a tweet on Sunday, Dr. Matiang'i had said "We had constructive deliberations and consolidated our foundation for addressing our cross-border issues".
The presence of SNA and Jubaland forces along the Kenyan border risks eroding gains made against Al-Shabaab, who had ceded authority in parts of Jubaland due to frequent onslaught by allied forces.
In a statement, Somalia's international partners on Sunday raised concerns about "heavy presence" of SNA troops in Gedo and called for "urgent reduction" to pave way for dialogue between FGS and federal states.
But Mr. Abiy may not act as a mediator between Kenya and Somalia over Gedo given that Ethiopia in also an interested party in the region, Dr. Vincent Moracha of Kisii University notes.
While Kenya works closely with Jubaland leadership, whose relationship with Mogadishu is rather frosty, Ethiopian administration has often been linked with FGS "invasion" in Gedo, through it's non-AMISOM troops.
"Maybe Kenya will seek only want Ethiopia to exploit the available options for the interest of defeating Al-Shabaab," Moracha said. "Ethiopian is an interested party in Gedo. Both sides need to compromise".
KDF mans Sectors II and VI of Jubaland with Ethiopian National Defense Forces, who work closely with FGS, manning Sector III, which covers sections of Gedo. Kenya uses Jubaland as a buffer zone in Al-Shabaab war.
The maritime puzzle
Besides the Gedo puzzle, which could threaten the cooperation between KDF and ENDF in AMISOM, the maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia is said to have featured.
An aide to Dr. Matiang'i, who spoke in confidence, said Kenya is banking on Ethiopia to persuade Somalia to withdraw the maritime case from International Court of Justice.
"We also have the maritime dispute. Uhuru wants Mr. Ahmed to persuade Somalia to withdraw the case for an out of court settlement," he told Garowe Online on phone.
Initially, Kenya's attempts to have the matter internally mediated flopped after African Union sitting in Addis Ababa said "it has no jurisdictions" to prevail over Somalia.
Parallel meetings between Uhuru and Farmajo over the matter did not yield fruits either last year. Mr. Farmajo insisted that Somalia "trusts ICJ" an an impartial arbiter.
The ICJ is set to hold inter-party hearings in June 2020, where both countries will make submissions. The court had postponed the hearings twice last year upon Kenya's request.
Normalcy returns across the border
Of surprise was Kenya's unprecedented decision to take diplomatic approach, despite having military capability to take action both in Gedo and even in protecting it's perceived waters.
Abdimalik Abdullahi, a researcher in the Horn of Africa, termed Kenya's approach as a "good move" which will ease "diplomatic tensions" motivated by cross-border and maritime issues.
"Diplomacy is the velvet glove that cloaks the fist of power. Prudent that both nations iron out their issues, seek a common ground and face the common enemy," he added in a tweet.
By Tuesday, normalcy had been restored in Gedo. Mandera Governor Ali Roba said Jubaland forces had moved 7 kilometers away from the town deep into Somalia, in a notice that recalled all staff members to work station.
The Jubaland troops had been operating from the Kenya side, with close protection of KDF when it was involved in gunfight with SNA troops, officials said.
Also, the heavy presence of SNA in Balad-Hawo had been significantly reduced perhaps due to pressure from the US and allies. Kenya is graciously supports Ahmed Madobe, the Jubaland President who has been at loggerheads with Farmajo.
Reports also indicate Abdirashid Janan, the Jubaland minister who had been taking refuge in Mandera, returned to Kismayo, further bringing the impasse in Gedo into unprecedented end.
In the middle of the uncertainty, Kenya plays host to thousands of Somali refugees in Dadaab camp. Also, Nairobi is a major contributor to AMISOM, a reason that complicates the current situation.