Outgoing President Mohamed Farmaajo was fighting for his face this week when something else affecting Somalis happened: Neighbouring Kenya was threatening to close the Dadaab refugee camp.
Home to more than 174,000 Somalis, this temporary shelter has been in existence for 30 years. And it has become a scapegoat for Kenya’s security problems especially in the fight against al-Shabaab.
After intense negotiations with the UN Refugee Agency, Kenya accepted to delay the closure to next year. But the incident exposed Farmaajo’s latest hypocrisy.
Farmaajo claims to be a Somalia-loving politician who routinely lampoons foreign countries’ interference. He couldn’t care to oppose this closure. There were worrying signs that shutting down the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps could expose the inhabitants to inhumane conditions including becoming stateless.
Here were 174,000 Somalis staring into a bleak future. We were hearing horrid plans that they could be ferried to the border and dumped into Somalia’s drought. Kenya plans to provide certain groups of refugees with documents that may allow them to get jobs. Somalis weren’t listed as the country doesn’t belong to the East African Community.
Yet even in this kind of situation, Farmaajo chose to sustain his political beef with Kenya than engage to find a solution. We know that Farmaajo cut diplomatic ties with Kenya which he accuses of meddling in the affairs of Somalia. And Somalis rightly loathe any interference from anywhere. The issue at hand this week though was that a group of vulnerable citizens was facing danger. In times of emergency, a President would surely have sent an emissary or even adopted back channels to help save his compatriots.
Instead, he sunk his head in the sand to fight his political battles. In a week of losing streak when his camp was being deserted, how then could he prove his patriotism as he claimed in his midnight speech?
Somalia may have its political problems and politicians like Farmaajo certainly have their ambitions. But as a leader who has stayed on longer than his mandate, at least he could seek some approval points by defending Somalis’ rights and safety both at home and abroad.
Somalia and Kenya may have their routine tiffs but for Farmaajo to take advantage of that and use it to campaign for his acceptance is hypocrisy. Neither Somalia nor Kenya chose to be in the Horn but they will both be neighbors in our lifetime whether we like it or not. This means that Farmaajo’s feelings and ambitions should not amount to our country’s interests. The condition of Somali refugees in Kenya should be reason enough to seek ways of cooperating rather than quarreling. Certainly, it was Mogadishu that moved the chess piece by cutting ties. It behooves Farmaajo to repair this before he leaves.
It has been 30 years since some of those refugees went to Kenya. This amounts to an entire generation. Men and women who have known nowhere else have called Dadaab home. The least Somalia can do is continue beefing with a country that hosts a portion of our citizenry. Yet in the presidency of Farmaajo, he has refused to compromise, refused to assess the reality that Somalia needs external help most of the time, and has not known how to manage his anger. In the past four weeks, Villa Somalia has accused Kenya of interference almost every week. Kenya did not respond to any of those claims. Either Kenya did not hear the accusations or simply doesn’t see the end for the shouting match.
At the end of the day, when Farmaajo and his people will come to their senses, they will learn that an ongoing drought and al-Shabaab menace will likely cause a new spike in refugees to Ethiopia, Kenya, or Djibouti, the latter two which are seen, falsely, by Farmaajo as against Somalia.
It is true Kenya’s obligations to host refugees are regardless of relations with Somalia. But Somalia cannot continue ignoring the plight of its citizens aging in a foreign country it accuses of interference.