Sunday December 25, 2016
Miraa (khat) traders sort their produce for the market. Somalia has threatened to re-impose a ban on miraa from Kenya. PHOTO / FILE
Somalia is threatening to re-impose a ban on miraa from Kenya in what it accuses Nairobi of disregarding an agreement to resume direct flights with Mogadishu.
Mogadishu claims it agreed to lift the ban back in September because Kenya had agreed to allow direct flights between the two cities by December 13.
Last week, officials from the Federal Government accused Kenya of remaining silent over a deal that would save Somalis the agony of having to land in Wajir for security checks before proceeding to Nairobi.
“Somalia and Kenya had an agreement to ease these restrictions because both airports in Nairobi and Mogadishu can handle security checks before anyone can board,” an official told the Sunday Nation from Mogadishu last week.
“That hasn’t happened in three months as agreed. So it means Kenya wasn’t committed at all. We will revert to the ban.”
Since 2006 when Somalia fell among the Union of Islamic Courts (which morphed into al-Shabaab), Kenya imposed a security restriction requiring all flights from the troubled country to first land in Wajir before proceeding to any other airport in Kenya.
This requirement, Kenya says, is meant to ensure all cargo and passengers are screened before entering the country. But Somalia has been lobbying Nairobi to lift it, arguing its airports have sufficient security checks.
Somalia had in September banned miraa flights from Kenya, accusing Meru Governor Peter Munya of seeking a trade agreement with the country’s breakaway region of Somaliland in exchange for some sort of recognition.
But amid the pressure from farmers back home to have the ban on miraa lifted, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his host had a sideline meeting to the, Intergovernmental Authority on Development Summit in Mogadishu. The two leaders agreed for miraa flights to resume the next day to Somalia, in exchange for a three-month grace period for the Wajir stop-over to be lifted.
On Saturday, Somali Ambassador to Kenya Gamal Hassan declined to divulge further information although he did agree an agreement signed in September was to be effective from early this month.
“We are in discussion with the Government of Kenya on this issue and very soon we will let the public know when the direct flights will start,” he told the Nation.
The Nation has not seen a copy of the agreement. But a communique issued after the meeting and read to the media by Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed states that the two countries had agreed to boost security at airports in Mogadishu and Nairobi within three months.
“The two heads of state agreed to promote trade between our two countries. They agreed to remove all restrictive measures on movement of goods,” it says.
On Saturday, Ms Mohamed downplayed the threat, saying the countries are discussing the matter.
“We are working with the Federal Government on this and many other issues. All is well,” she said.
On Thursday, Ms Mohamed had a meeting with the Somali envoy with CS later saying they had “discussed issues of mutual interest.” Mr Hassan said he was confident the restrictions will be removed at the beginning of next year.
Kenya exports about 540 planeloads of miraa to Somalia every month, which is mostly grown in Meru County.
On Saturday, MPs Kathuri Murungi (South Imenti), Mr David Karithi (Tigania West) and Mr Joseph M’Eruaki (Igembe North) asked the government to act and prevent a possible reinstatement of the ban.
Mr Murungi said if at all there was any agreement between Kenyan and Somalia, then “the part of the bargain should be urgently met”.
“Somalia should reciprocate the support which Kenya government has accorded them for many years especially in peace keeping. Our farmers will be greatly affected if Somalia takes that decision and President Uhuru Kenyatta should intervene at the earliest time possible to avert any crisis,” said the South-Imenti MP.