President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to meet Monday with visiting Somaliland leader Muse Bihi to discuss matters on trade and security, amid a diplomatic standoff with Somalia.
An itinerary from the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Bihi’s first official trip to Nairobi, since he took power in October 2017 in the breakaway region, will discuss matters of “mutual interests”, especially on security and business relations.
“Stronger relations between Kenya and Somaliland would bolster security, economic and social interactions between the two parties,” a dispatch said.
“Somaliland is an important partner in the Horn of Africa region in the fight against terrorism and particularly Al-Shabaab.”
Somaliland considers itself independent of Somalia though it is unrecognised by any other country in Africa. Mogadishu considers Somaliland part of its territory.
Officials in Nairobi said the visit could improve contacts crucial for political and economic stability of the Horn of Africa.
During the meeting, discussions on whether to allow Kenya Airways to start direct flight to Hargeisa will likely feature.
This is not the first visit to Kenya by a Somaliland leader.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta hosted Prime Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Egal in the 1960s and in 1994, President Daniel arap Moi hosted the same leader as he tried to reconcile him with Gen Farah Aideed of Somalia. Egal was Somaliland’s President from 1993 to 2002.
Dahir Riyale Kahin visited Kenya in 2006.
Bihi’s trip, though, has been preceded by a diplomatic spat between Somalia and Kenya.
Ten days ago, Somalia expelled Kenya’s ambassador to Mogadishu, Maj-Gen (rtd) Lucas Tumbo, and recalled theirs in Nairobi, Mohamud Ahmed Nur Tarzan, following what Somalia claimed was Kenya’s interference in Jubaland state of Somalia.
President Mohamed Farmaajo claims Kenya prevailed upon Jubaland leader Ahmed Madobe to renege on a political deal he signed with other leaders of federal states to allow elections.
Madobe has since said polls won’t go ahead unless Somalia removes federal troops from Gedo.
Somaliland has run its affairs independent of Somalia since 1991. It has its currency, central bank and military. Kenya, though, has not set up a consular office in Hargeisa like Ethiopia did. Bihi’s trip could open that possibility.
Previously known as British Somaliland, it merged with what was known as Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic at independence in 1960.
However, after the fall of Siad Barre, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia.
Bihi, himself a former Somalia military pilot, is leading a country that memorialised Barre’s bombardment of Hargeisa during the civil war in 1987, where an estimated 200,000 people were massacred in the city.
A Somali warplane shot down during the war was erected as a monument in the centre of the Somaliland capital.