Somalia reopens miraa trade, allows in Kenya Airways as ties warm

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Somalia on Friday July 15 allowed the resumption of miraa exports from Kenya and permitted Kenya Airways to start scheduled flights to Mogadishu in the latest sign of improving ties between the two countries.

The decision arose from a meeting between President Uhuru and his Somali counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in Nairobi. The two had also met last month during the inauguration of President Mohamud in Mogadishu.

On his first visit to Kenya since he took the mantle for the second time, President Mohamud said he was ready to “repair” relations with Kenya based on mutual respect and to be able to tackle common challenges.

The two leaders agreed to reopen their land border which had been closed more than ten years ago but remained porous.

“There is a lot to bring us together than to divide us,” President Mohamud said in a joint briefing with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“The common challenges we have are not limited to terrorism or droughts. We have a lot more challenges,” he added.

A joint communique between Kenya and Somali delegations had earlier indicated miraa exports from Kenya and fish imports from Somalia will resume “with immediate effect.”

The two countries “agreed to facilitate, diversify and promote trade and economic cooperation… and directed the immediate market access of fish and fish products from Somalia to Kenya and vice versa and the resumption of trade in khat (miraa) from Kenya to Somalia, to resume with immediate effect.”

The dispatch also said Kenya Airways flight schedules “will resume immediately based on existing bilateral air services agreement (BASA). The BASA will be reviewed by relevant authorities.”

Kenya Airways’ request to start flying to Mogadishu had been pending for years and Somalia initially pulled a plug in protest to Kenya’s strict aviation rules on Somalia that had included stopovers in Wajir for security checks.

The matter was not helped after relations worsened during former President Mohamed Farmaajo’s administration, which, at one point, cut diplomatic ties with Kenya before resuming them last year in July. Farmaajo lost to Mohamud in May.

President Mohamud’s trip is significant since he was the leader in power when Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice back in 2014. That case was determined last year, largely in favour of Somalia. Kenya had said it will not obey the decision.

But the two countries have now reactivated their diplomatic channels and it was expected they will discuss how to implement the decision which is likely to be the first foreign policy task of whoever replaces President Kenyatta after the August 9 elections.

On Friday, the two sides agreed to start giving courtesy visas to holders of diplomatic passports, as well as letters from their respective ministries of foreign affairs. The visas will be issued free of charge on arrival.

Other holders of service passports will also receive free visas but must apply online before arrival alongside letters from the ministries of foreign affairs.

However, ordinary passport holders will apply for visas and have them processed within 10 working days.

Nonetheless, Somalia and Kenya agreed to iron out their diplomatic issues through a common organ known as the Joint Commission on Cooperation.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had earlier hosted Bissau-Guinean leader Umaro Sissoco Embaló at State House, Nairobi.

According to State House, President Embaló, the current chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is visiting and will have “bilateral talks” on a number of issues.

The details were not divulged but President Kenyatta also chairs the east African bloc, the East African Community whose mantle he is supposed to hand over at the end of July.