What does Somalia benefit from the bilateral agreements it has entered with the Government of Kenya
On 15th of July 2022, Somalia and Kenya agreed on several bilateral agreements including granting entry visas to Somalia passport holders. In a jointly issued communiqué, both parties assented to Somali individuals holding both service and diplomatic passports with a note verbale from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Government of Somalia be granted entry visas within 48 hours.
As part of the trade agreement and promotion of investment opportunities between the two countries, Somalia agreed to expedite the resumption of khat importation from Kenya, and on the other hand, Somalia to export fish to Kenya.
In the same communiqué, it was also outlined that a committee from the respective foreign ministers of both countries be established to ensure the implementation of the MoU. In this regard, it appears, that only Somalia has fulfilled the agreement as planes carrying khat started to land in Somalia as early as July 24th 2022.
Former Kenya Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, who spoke to the Standard Media confirmed that planes carrying Khat left for Mogadishu and raised hopes of restoring one of Khat’s major markets. “Our commitment as government to support miraa farmers and all other sectors in accessing local and international market opportunities remains steadfast,” Munya said.
Elections in Kenya
Kenya went through a general election and a change of government without keeping its end of the bargain. Vice President William Ruto was elected as Kenya’s next president and Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was among the first African heads of states to congratulate him. The two leaders became so close that President Ruto hosted his Somalia counterpart a day after his inauguration at Kenya’s State House. The leaders reiterated their desire to strengthen relations and honour their bilateral agreements, however, Somalis have continued to face obstacles when travelling to Kenya.
Obstacles faced by Somali citizens willing to travel to Kenya.
Somalia has faced a protracted and turbulent civil war which led to the destruction of public institutions and forced foreign missions to be recalled. Following the end of Somalia’s transitional period in 2012, some foreign embassies have restored diplomatic relations with the government of Somalia, and reopened embassies in Mogadishu, although, most of them don’t provide visa services and are only here for political reasons. As a result, Somalis have been travelling to Kenya for visa services.
In the last two months, Somali citizens travelling to Kenya for different purposes including medical reasons have encountered enormous challenges in getting entry visas. Usually, most Somalis go through travel agencies based in Mogadishu since Somalia passport holders are not permitted to use the online visa application process.
Normally, before restrictions were imposed on Somali citizens, the numbers of days of getting a Kenyan visa were 5 to 7 days, however, it now takes up to two months without any guarantee that you will ever get one.
A source, who should remain anonymous per his request, told me that he had an appointment at the Swiss embassy in Nairobi. He was aiming to obtain an entry visa to Switzerland since Switzerland does not have a consulate in Somalia. He used a travel agency per usual to help him get a Kenyan visa first and was told to wait every time he enquired about his application. “Almost a month and half passed now, and I did not receive the visa; every time I contact my travel agent, I am told to wait as my application is pending” he told me.
The source notes that the problem is not confined to him as more and more people are sharing their stories of waiting for Kenyan visas for an unusually prolonged period.
This visa problem is not only affecting ordinary citizens, but also government officials who need to travel to Kenya for seminars, workshops, and retreats. It also negatively affects sick people who usually travel via Kenya en route to India and other destinations.
The visa fee charges on Somali passport holders.
Somali citizens are the only citizens who pay the highest fees to obtain a visa. Before the visa standoff started, Somali citizens paid $260, to get a visa within a week, but that fee has now risen to $500, and it is expected to increase even more without any guarantees of getting the visas.
The mind-boggling question on everyone’s mind is; who pockets these funds collected from our citizens? Succinctly, only $51 of that money goes to the immigration of Kenya, some go to the travel agencies that are based in Mogadishu, while the largest portion goes to groups of cartels in Nairobi who are collecting the money under the guise of facilitating the visa process. Many wonder if the Kenyan authorities are aware of these cartels.
The government of Somalia should review this lopsided agreement it has signed with the government of Kenya and make sure the points are implemented as intended. As things stand now, it appears to only benefits Kenya. Through the Somali embassy in Kenya and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Federal Government of Somalia should enquire about the restrictions, the time it takes for a visa to be issued and the fees that are asked of Somali citizens.Somalia and Kenya’s July 2022 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
Mohamed Addow is a writer and researcher. A SIMAD University Alumni who is passionate about communications and Media.