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Kenya, Somaliland agree on direct flights, consulate

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2020-12-17 20:07
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Kenya on Tuesday reached a deal for direct Kenya Airways flights to Hargeisa in Somaliland, in what will be the first destination for the national carrier into a Somali region. Kenya also agreed to set up a consulate in Hargeisa by the first quarter of 2021, joining Ethiopia and Djibouti, which have diplomatic outposts in the Somaliland capital.

The agreement was revealed by Kenya's foreign ministry after Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted bilateral talks between Kenya and a visiting delegation led by Somaliland President Musa Bihi Abdi at the State House in Nairobi. Abdi arrived in Kenya on Dec 13 for a three-day official visit.

According to Kenyatta's press office, the two leaders on Monday held discussions around the expansion of bilateral trade, enhancing cooperation in air transport as well as cooperating in agriculture, livestock development, education, energy. Cooperation between the ports of Mombasa and Berbera took center stage.

The two leaders also directed their respective senior officials to work together to develop a framework agreement on security, trade and investments, and promotion of training and capacity-building among other areas.

"The two leaders agreed to timelines for implementation of a number of activities. Kenya agreed to open its consulate in Hargeisa by end of March 2021. Somaliland will also upgrade its liaison office in Nairobi within the same timeframe," the foreign affairs ministry in Kenya said in a statement. "Senior officials from Kenya and Somaliland will meet to agree on details and timelines for enhancing technical cooperation, including implementation of exchange programs involving students, agricultural officers, doctors, nurses and other professionals."

Besides the direct flights, Kenya offered to recognize Somaliland's travel papers, which by March 2021 should enable acquisition of visas on arrival, especially for senior government officials. Citizens of Somaliland, using their travel papers, will be eligible for e-visas as well.

The move came hours after Somalia, which sees Somaliland as its territory, severed ties with Kenya in protest against what it called constant interference with its internal affairs. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 and is routinely treated as separate from that country, but Somalia has never recognized it.

As a result of the spat, Somalia's information minister Osman Dubbe made an announcement on Tuesday morning indicating his country will withdraw all its diplomats from Kenya and has ordered Kenyan diplomats to leave the country within seven days. However, Kenya government spokesman Cyrus Oguna said Kenya will not expel Somali diplomats and instead will seek talks with its neighbor.

Oguna said he hoped for intervention in the diplomatic crisis from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. IGAD is the Djibouti-based, eight-country trade bloc in the Horn of Africa and COMESA is the Zambia-based, free-trade area of 21 member states reaching from Tunisia to Eswatini.

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