Troops mass either side of Kenya-Somalia border
Relations between Kenya and Somalia are becoming tenser by the month. The Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo is having to contend not only with Kenya renewing its claims to Somali territorial waters (which are thought to contain vast oil and gas reserves) but also the refusal of his Kenyan opposite number, Uhuru Kenyatta, to extradite the former Jubaland minister of security Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur, aka Abdirashid Janan. The two presidents have now deployed troops to either side of their joint border in an escalation of tensions which isn’t cordial anymore (ION 1503).
Somalia gears up for combat
Farmajo is placing his troops along the Kenyan border in the face of Nairobi’s refusal to extradite Abdirashid Janan and has threatened to send the Somali National Army (SNA) into Kenya to capture him.
The former Jubaland minister of security was arrested on 31 August 2019 on suspicion of having committed ‘serious crimes‘ in the Gedo region. However, he escaped from temporary house arrest in Mogadishu on 28 January while he was waiting to be transferred to a new prison (ION 1515) and fled via Bula Hawa to Nairobi. He has now taken refuge in the Kenyan town of Mandera on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia close to Bula Hawa.
Somalian diplomatic pressure to secure his extradition has not so far borne fruit. The Somalian deputy minister of foreign affairs, Abdulkadir Ahmed-Kheir Abdi, has raised the matter several times since the beginning of January with his Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo but to no avail. The Somalian request for an intervention by Interpol on 6 February has also failed to persuade Nairobi to budge.
The final straw
The frictions centring around the former security minister of Jubaland come in the midst of an ongoing maritime dispute between the two countries. During a telephone conversation in early February concerning the extradition of Abdirashid Janan, the two presidents also discussed this strategically key subject. Since 2014, Mogadishu has been contesting the maritime boundary drawn by Nairobi in a zone that is potentially rich in hydrocarbons.
When Somalia first sought to sell off oil blocks in the area a year ago, tensions immediately flared again between the two countries (ION 1492). On 16 February 2019, the Somalian ambassador Mohamoud Ahmed Nur was expelled from Nairobi and Kenyatta recalled his Kenyan opposite number in Mogadishu, Lucas Tumbo.
Diversionary sabre rattling?
However, Somalia is not in a position to make good on its threats. A Pentagon report presented to the US Congress on 11 February concluded that the SNA does not have the capacity to contain al-Shabaab on its own. Meanwhile, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) are still present on Somali soil through AMISOM (the African Union mission in Somalia) despite having withdrawn some of their troops (ION 1495).
The American general Stephen Townsend, who commands AFRICOM, was in the region from 12 to 14 February in the company of the US ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto. In the course of this diplomatic mission, they met the president of Jubaland Ahmed Mohamed Islam aka Madobe, who is being supported by Kenyatta and whom Farmajo has vainly been trying to unseat since his re-election in August 2019 (ION 1515). By massing his troops in the Gedo region and sabre rattling with Kenya, Farmajo may ultimately be seeking to divert attention away from his failure to contain al-Shabaab. It may also help the federal government to regain control over its member states and stem the ongoing balkanisation of the country – even if this means leaving the barracks of Mogadishu empty…