Somalia and Kenya can begin on a clean slate


EDITORIAL | Kenya on Tuesday turned over a new leaf after inaugurating Dr. William Ruto as the fifth President, following a month-long electoral process. Kenya’s celebrations now mean there has been a peaceful transfer of power in the last three administrations, something that only a few peers in the region can tick on their to-do lists.

The new administration came as Somalia's new leadership settled in, meaning both countries could begin on a clean slate to advance their cooperation. Nations will now lead the two countries with a checkered diplomatic relationship. Yet they also have a lot at stake if they don’t right the relations.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia and Dr. Ruto’s Predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta had already set the ball rolling, resuming open relations and trade and unbanning exports of miraa and fish. Dr. Ruto’s administration may well know the value of these relations going, given he was Mr. Kenyatta’s deputy for ten years. Besides, a significant constituency for Dr. Ruto relies on miraa sales, so he may be aware that keeping Somalia on his side will help pacify any doubts they may have about his leadership.

Of course, there are bigger fish to fry between the two countries. One is insecurity. Last week, Dr. Ruto told CNN Somalia is a “hard nut to crack,” implying the vicious cycle of violence and humanitarian crises that have befallen the country over the decades.

Somalia has the unique trait of changing administrations peacefully after every election in its rebuilding times. Yet Somalia has also faced violent episodes perpetuated by the terrorist group al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is not just a Somalia problem, however, and neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia, and Uganda have received their stick just as much as Somalia. The pledge by Dr. Ruto to work with Somali authorities to stand on their two legs is welcome. But Kenya and Somalia must address the short-term gaps in cooperation, especially on intelligence sharing.

The elephant in the room, however, is how both countries go about the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which last year redrew their shared maritime boundary. When that decision was made in October 2021, Kenyatta said he would not cede an inch of Kenya’s territory. It is unclear whether Ruto will take the same defiant route even though President Mohamud has not publicly spoken about the case on his three visits to Kenya. The two leaders must place the issue on their priority lists to remove uncertainty. The area in dispute is rich in petroleum resources and fish. Agreeing on how to manage the site within the borderlines of the case and based on an understanding between the two sides can help remove cloudy air that may otherwise hold back economic exploitation of our seas.

This is the time to correct old mistakes using the tremendous new leadership in both countries.


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