Kenya has downplayed reports of deteriorating relations with Somalia over a maritime border dispute terming the recent decision by airport officials to turn away a Somali delegation as a purely immigration matter.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Amb Macharia Kamau on Thursday said the refusal of entry to three Somali officials was not unique and that immigration and security clearance restrictions have affected other countries in the region.
“There’s no diplomatic row. Why do we sensationalize the pettiest of issues? It’s just an immigration incident and not a diplomatic row and this sometimes happens for immigration, security, or other reasons. It happens to Ugandans, South Sudanese, and others,” he said.
Somalia had expressed concern over what it termed as “detention and confiscation of passports” of a deputy cabinet minister and two parliamentarians at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on Monday.
Somali Deputy Minister of Water and Energy Osman Libah and Senators Ilyas Ali Hassan and Zamzam Dahir were turned away on arrival at the JKIA for lack of visas.
Immigration officials reportedly advised the three diplomatic passport holders to obtain visas at the Kenyan Embassy in Mogadishu before clearance.
The country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Tuesday protested Kenya’s actions as destabilizing adding that they contravened the neighborly bond that exists between the two nations.
Mogadishu also took issue with the reinstatement of mandatory security screening stops at Wajir for all inbound flights from Somalia.
“The Government of Somalia also expresses its concern with regards to the reinstitution of a mandatory stopover in Wajir ostensibly for purposes of conducting additional security checks on Somalia passengers,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“This is inconsistent with an agreement reached between our two governments in respect to conducting direct flights from Mogadishu to Nairobi,” the ministry indicated.
Responding to the concerns, Kamau said Kenya will continue to strengthen its diplomatic relations with Somalia but insisted the country will not cede any of its territory in an apparent reference to an ongoing tussle over a 62,000 square mile triangle in the Indian Ocean.
“Let’s not play into people who do not want to see our country excel. We’re amazingly friendly to Somalia and we’ve been amazingly facilitating of the people of Somalia. We just need to understand each other that they need to respect our territorial integrity and we need to respect that we’ve needs that we need to try and avail for them,” the PS remarked.
Somalia offered the disputed oil-rich area at an auction in London on February 7 prompting the Ministry Foreign Affairs to temporarily recall its diplomat in Mogadishu for urgent consultations.
The two countries agreed to normalize relations on April 3 after foreign ministers met in Nairobi against the backdrop of high-level talks mediated by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Ahmed mediated talks between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Somalia’s Mohammed Abdulahi on March 6 in an effort to resolve spat between Kenya and Somalia.
His office had said the parties had resolved to amicably resolve differences of the maritime border dispute filed by Somalia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on August 28, 2014.
Kenya had challenged the admissibility of Somalia’s case at the ICJ in September 2016 on grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the application but the court disallowed the objection in February 2017 clearing the way for submissions by the two parties.
The court fixed June 18, 2018 as the date by which Somalia was to file its submissions in court with Kenya given until December 18, 2018 to file its rejoinder to Somalia’s written pleadings.
Somalia premised its case on Article 15 of the Convention of the Law of Sea adopted in 1982, Kenya saying the disputed area was in fact under its jurisdiction before the convention was enacted.
Somalia wants the sea boarder extended along the land boarder; a plea which if granted could limit Kenya’s access to high seas on its Indian Ocean shore technically rendering the country landlocked.
ICJ is yet to give further timelines on the hearing of the dispute.