Last December, Somaliland President Muse Bihi visited Kenya on invitation from President Uhuru Kenyatta eliciting varied reaction from across the Horn of Africa.
While this was not the first official visit by a sitting president from Somaliland, it had massive significance on the future engagements of the two countries considering the agreements signed between the two heads of state.
At the same time, the meeting of the two was a clear manifestation of the important role Somaliland, though not yet recognized internationally, plays in the geopolitics of the region.
Through stronger ties with Kenya, Somaliland will not only benefit from the mutual friendship, but it will also strengthen our resolve for international recognition.
During their meetings, President Uhuru and Bihi set timelines that will see the two democracies strengthen their mutual relationship between that will go a long way to stabilize the whole region.
By the end of March, relationship between the two countries will go a notch higher as it is the date set to officially formalize the agreements signed by the Presidents in their Memorandum of Understanding.
Already, delegations from both countries have held meetings to work out the finer details and meet the deadline set.
As Somaliland, we cannot hide our excitement especially on plans to open a mission in Hargeisa and upgrade our Liaison office in Nairobi to a consul.
Opening a mission in Hargeisa will be a massive boost to our economic and social transactions.
This added to the direct flights from Nairobi to Hargeisa will offer Kenyan investors an opportunity to do business in Somaliland.
Somaliland may have gained its independence from the British in 1960, three years ahead of Kenya, but there is so much Somaliland stands to gain from stronger ties between the two countries.
While Kenya is today considered one of economic superpowers in the region and the continent, Somaliland is picking up from a frosty union and relationship with Somalia which we cut in 1991 to chart our own path.
Over the last 30 years, Somaliland has slowly but surely built on its democracy making the country one of the most respected in the region alongside Kenya which remains a beacon of democracy in the continent.
It is from the peaceful elections we have held and our open policy on foreign investment that we are seeing Somaliland attract interest from across Africa and beyond.
The official ties with Kenya will see more Kenyans venture into Somaliland as professionals and investors, bringing the much needed boost to our small yet fast growing economy and will open a new frontier for Somalilanders
Time has come when the world cannot wish away Somaliland. After years of neglect (for the misplaced notion that we are not internationally recognized) Somaliland is reviving its identity as an African nation and pivoting towards the continent and we are honoured to have Kenya as our partner in this mission.
At a time when the continent is attracting attention on all fronts from former colonial powers leveraging their historical ties to new investments by the Middle East’s oil-rich monarchies, amid an influx of American, European and Chinese businesses, Somaliland is mobilizing from within, but also building ties in the continent.
Somaliland, through its ties with Kenya and like minded nations in Africa will push for international recognition.
We want to be part of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) which see our people join the continent’s over 1.2 billion benefit through the free trade agreements.
As investors look to Africa, Somaliland bolstered by its strategic location, is positioned as the gateway to Africa through trade and technology and the ongoing expansion of the Berbera Port by the DP World will definitely complement the Lamu Port which President Uhuru Kenyatta has been so passionate about. The cooperation between Berbera, Lamu and Mombasa Ports will be a massive trade boost to the two countries.
Berbera’s geoeconomic advantage is set to be further boosted by the 12 square kilometres new Economic Free Zone from where the country looks to enhance its intra-African relations, bring in foreign investment for export-oriented industries and transform the country into a global logistics hub.
We also look to create value chains across the continent, become a manufacturing and exporting base for commodities and raw materials from the region. This has the potential to attract large pools of public-and private-sector investment from Kenya and all over the world to drive new business in Somaliland and the Horn of Africa.
While professionals in the education sector will seize the opportunity to venture into Somaliland, Somaliland students will also gain so much from the Kenyan education sector by joining Kenyan institutions to learn and bring back that much needed knowledge to our country.
The move by Kenya to recognize Somaliland passports will boost influx of Somaliland businessmen and promote medical and education tourism in Kenya.
Other areas which we are looking forward to include the expansion of bilateral trade, enhancing cooperation in air transport as well as cooperating in agriculture, livestock development, education, energy.
Beyond trade and investment, the unity between Kenya and Somaliland has seen the two repulse the threat posed by Al Shabaab and have worked together in safeguarding peace and stability in the Horn of Africa region.
Kenya and Somaliland were both governed by Britain before the two countries regained their independence in, respectively, 1963 and 1960 and we remain conjoined from the hip.
We are looking forward to stronger diplomatic ties.
By Ambassador Bashe Awil Omar
The author is the Somaliland envoy to Kenya