Kenya and Somalia agree to phased border reopening

Kenya and Somalia have agreed to reopen their common border after more than a decade, Kenya’s interior minister said on Monday as ties warm between the two neighbours following years of tensions.

The announcement came after a high-level joint ministerial meeting in Nairobi on cooperation including on security, as well as trade and the movement of people.

The frontier had been officially closed in October 2011 because of attacks on Kenyan soil by the radical Islamist Somali group Al-Shabaab, which has been waging an insurgency against the central government in Mogadishu for more than 15 years.

“We have resolved that the border between Kenya and Somalia will be reopened in a phased manner within the next 90 days, effective today,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said, adding that a first crossing should be opened in 30 days.

The two nations had announced plans in July last year to reopen the frontier at talks between then Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somali counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud but they never materialised.

Kindiki said at a joint press conference with his Somali counterpart Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh Ali that they would work together on security, improving information sharing and mechanisms for cross-border collaboration.

“Kenya and Somalia are continuously experiencing both inter- and intra-security challenges emanating from Al-Shabaab,” he added.

Tumultuous relationship

Kenya first sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to combat the Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists and is now a major contributor of troops to an African Union military operation against the group.

But it suffered a string of retaliatory assaults, including a bloody siege at the Westgate mall in Nairobi in 2013 that cost 67 lives and an attack on Garissa University in eastern Kenya in 2015 that killed 148 people.

Since taking office a year ago, Mohamud has launched “all-out” war against the militants, who were ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 but remain entrenched in parts of rural central and southern Somalia.

In recent months, the Somali army and local clan militias have retaken chunks of territory from Al-Shabaab in an operation backed by US air strikes and the AU-force known as ATMIS.

Despite their shared fight against the militants, Kenya and Somalia have had a tumultuous relationship.

Ties have been dogged by a maritime border row as well as Somali accusations of Kenyan meddling in its affairs, while Nairobi has accused Mogadishu of using it as a scapegoat for its own political and security problems.

Somalia severed diplomatic ties in December 2020 after Nairobi hosted the political leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway region not recognised by the central government in Mogadishu.

They were re-established in August 2021.

Kenya and Somalia share a 680-kilometre (420-mile) land border and have been locked in a dispute for years over a potentially oil-and-gas rich chunk of the Indian Ocean.

In October 2021, the UN’s top court handed control of most of the vast area to Somalia but Kenya rejected the ruling.

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