In August 2018, Somaliland President Musa Bihi appointed me to head the Liaison office in Nairobi. My previous mission was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where I played a similar role as head of the embassy in Dubai.
In Nairobi, part of my mission is to work towards strengthening the ties between Kenya and Somaliland, which have been cordial since pre-independence days, when we were both under the British colonial rule.
During the period I have served in Nairobi, I have come to appreciate the good working relationship the Kenya government and my country have, despite the obvious stumbling block occasioned by the fact that Somaliland remains unrecognised internationally.
From culture, education, trade and social issues, Kenya and Somaliland are joined at the hip.
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On paper, Kenya, just like many other states, does not recognise Somaliland. But beyond the political radar, Kenyans accept and appreciate the existence of Somaliland as an independent state.
The fact that we have a liaison office in Kenya that acts as a link between the two countries is testimony enough that Kenya recognises Somaliland.
For this reason, I have engaged in vigorous shuttle diplomacy to implore the Kenyan government on the growing need to open a liaison office in our capital city, Hargeisa. I have met Foreign Affairs officials in Nairobi and we share the same opinion that a Kenyan mission in Somaliland will cement our great ties.
Kenya’s former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is one of the top leaders who have shown total support to “free Somaliland”. Raila has been leading calls for the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state and we see him as a valuable partner in the quest for independence of Somaliland.
His appointment as the Africa Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa was well received in Hargeisa.
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We are home to the largest number of Kenyans living and working in the Horn of Africa. The Kenyans in Somaliland work as teachers, lecturers, doctors and nurses and in the hotel industry and ICT sector. We also have a huge number of Kenyan businesspeople.
Most of these Kenyans are helping to build our young economy. These Kenyans are also supporting their families back home, hence contributing to the Kenyan economy.
There are many other areas Kenya and Somaliland can work together for the benefit of their citizens. We have previously worked together to improve security in a region that had earned negative reputation due to terrorism and piracy perpetrated by Al Shabaab and youths from neighbouring Somalia.
While I cannot confidently say the war against terrorism has been won, we have managed to control cases of piracy in the Horn of Africa.
Our cooperation can see trade between the two countries grow. We are in the process of expanding the Port of Berbera, which, once complete, will be one of the most modern in the region.
While in the UAE, I played a key role in convincing the DP World, a marine cargo handling company, to come and invest in Berbera where we are also building a free market akin to that in Dubai. My role in Kenya is to encourage investors to venture in Somaliland.
We have held two conferences in Kenya where we invited the private and public sector players to showcase Somaliland’s potential. With Kenya also expanding the Lamu Port, the two countries can boost their trade.
Somaliland’s economy is booming, yet we have had to import most agricultural commodities from the Middle East. Interestingly, most of the produce like fruits and vegetables that we import from the Middle East are originally from Kenya. We, therefore, do not need to look to the east while we can get what we need here.
Further, with a more solid partnership, we can promote educational and health tourism. Currently, our people are forced to seek further education and medical attention in Europe and the Middle East, yet they can access the same in Kenya.
There have been plans to have Kenya Airways make a direct flight to Hargeisa, but the proposals are yet to be implemented. This has denied KQ much-needed revenue because passengers have had to connect through Addis Ababa with the Ethiopian Airline, which operates two flights a day to Hargeisa from Nairobi.
Kenya is respected across the continent and beyond for its democracy and strong international policy. Should Kenya recognise Somaliland, the rest of Africa and especially the African Union will have no alternative. A recognised Somaliland will play an even bigger role in promoting peace in the Horn of Africa.
Time for Kenya to recognise Somaliland is now.
Mr Bashe is the Somaliland representative to Kenya.