Kenya will open a consulate in the breakaway region of Somaliland that’s lobbying for international recognition, escalating tensions with the government of neighboring Somalia.
The office will open in the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa by end of March, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somaliland counterpart Muse Bihi Abdi said in a joint statement on Tuesday. The breakaway region will upgrade its liaison office in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, at the same time.
Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya on Tuesday, the day after Kenyatta announced he was holding talks with Abdi. The rift in relations comes as Kenya and Somalia prepare to square-off at an international tribunal in March over a maritime-border dispute.
Somaliland unilaterally declared independence in 1991 after the eruption of a civil war in Somalia. Since then, it’s been been pushing for international recognition that would allow it to source funding and aid from financial bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Situated on the Gulf of Aden, on the approach to a global shipping choke-point that leads to the Red Sea and Suez Canal, Somaliland has oil deposits that have been explored by companies including Genel Energy Plc. Somalia regards the region as an integral part of its territory.
In addition to upgrading diplomatic ties, Kenya Airways Plc and other airlines from the East African nation will start flights between Nairobi and Hargeisa by the end of March, according to the statement. Kenya and Somaliland will cooperate in areas including farming, and plan to collaborate in combating Islamist insurgents in the region.
Diplomatic relations between Kenya and Somalia deteriorated last year after Kenyatta’s administration accused Mogadishu of auctioning four offshore oil blocks in a disputed offshore area, an allegation Somalia denied. In October 2019, Somalia summoned Kenya’s ambassador after a Kenyan-registered aircraft landed without permission in Jubaland — a region of Somalia that’s seeking greater autonomy.
Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011, after a spate of kidnappings by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group who had originated in Somalia. The Kenyan forces later joined a multinational African Union force that sought to end the insurgency.