Kenya must use the Somalis within its borders to achieve strategic influence on the Horn.
Immigration can affect both host and home-country in several ways, and its effects can be positive or negative depending on the characteristics of the immigrants, the destination country, and whether immigrants maintain strong ties and a sense of belonging to the home country that induces them to influence the political process from abroad.
A natural extension of considering how foreign-educated and wealthy leaders can be extremely important in influencing the political grounds of a country would be to consider the possibility of how all immigrants could also be important agents in influencing political spheres, even from abroad.
Kenya has had a very strategic positioning in the happenings of politics within Somalia. Kenya bore the brunt of the refugee influx in the early ’90s. It withstood the hard times during this year of playing host in many frontiers. Most notably being the environmental degradation around the camps.
The refugees initially had the sole objective to transit through Kenya in the hope to finally settle on other continents. Many managed and blossomed in their new countries, acquiring citizenship and integrating. But one thing has manifested over time. Their hearts never left Kenya. They kept coming back and sending their relatives who were left behind to Kenya and prosper. Their children schooled in Kenya and have established investments within the country.
The Somali refugees adapted to their new home on the Horn. They settled in and reconstructed their lives. The resilience is something that still amazes many.
They, as their ancestors had done before continued on what they understood better, TRADE. They bought and sold anything they could lay their hands on. Kenya has benefited immensely from the fact that Somali immigrants have opened the doors of greater trade in goods and services. Somali traders give Kenya an economic edge in the East African economy. They bring innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to the economy. They provide business contacts to other markets, enhancing Kenya’s ability to trade and invest profitably in the global economy. They keep the economy flexible, allowing prices to be down and to respond to changing consumer demands.
You will often hear the claim that naturalization of Somali immigrants will create millions of new voters. This is an exaggerated ‘fear’ by politicians. How many registered Somali refugees are here in Kenya? Not anything more than 300,000. We also know that statistics show that the native-born Somalis increasingly outnumber the foreign-born, an indication of diminishing immigration and flow in of refugees.
Among Kenya Somali community, there is a long tradition of self-reliance, forged during many decades in which they had no reason to look to the government as their ally. The persistent marginalization made them look no further beyond a fellow Somali. The fellow Somali happened to be one who migrated across the border. The famously hard-working and entrepreneurial.
Kenyans and their legislators have to weigh the benefits of welcoming new citizens from the Somali Community against the benefits of restricting immigration, monitoring the activities of the Somali who migrated to Kenya and the native-born from parent previously in refugee camps et al, and narrowing the path to citizenship.
Remittances and Investments
Kenya’s Diaspora remittances in 2018 stood at Sh280 billion according to a World Bank unit known as the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development. Over half of that figure is by
Somalis in the Diaspora. North America typically accounts for the bulk of Kenyan remittances, reaching about 45 per cent on average with Minnesota edging the rest of cities. Minnesota hosts the largest Somali community outside Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Diaspora remittances is one of the Vision 2030 flagship projects under the financial sector, the government recognizes the role these remittances play in national development currently at more than 3% of GDP.
Eastleigh receives in Diaspora remittances in excess of KSH. 78B every year to different economic activities from startups, to the erection of a new complex, to part investments by Somalis abroad with their relatives within the hub.
Eastleigh economy supports over one 100,000 Kenyans who work within the complexes at different levels. This is clearly shown by the number of Matatu’s (busses) plying the route between the business hub and nearby slums.
The absurdity observed is that the Government appears to fight this positivity with continued unilateral policies which has no benefit for any of the players. Absurdities like the recent attempt by KRA to increase taxes on the 40-inch container from Ksh. 800,000 to 12M has left the industry baffled. The same container attracts Ksh 1M in South Sudan, Sh1.4M in Uganda and Sh1.6 million in Tanzania.
The crackdown undercut this politically progressive aspect of the transformational dynamics at work, while the flight of human and fiscal resources following the pogrom — Kampala became a primary destination — demonstrated the mobility of diaspora capital says Prof Neil Carrier’s new book, LittleMogadishu: Eastleigh, Nairobi’s Global Somali Hub.
Kenya cannot afford to push out this kind of investments while it is always globe throttling seeking to attract investments in the hope of lifting the economy.
The Politics of the Region
Another major factor for consideration in this paper is Kenya’s position in the regional influence. Like any geographic space, sub-Saharan Africa is governed by underlying factors that guide its direction and account for its actions, both at home and abroad.
East Africa is home to three power cores: the Ethiopian highlands, the Nile River Basin and the Kenyan highlands. Each of these spaces exhibits its own idiosyncrasies, which affect the projection of power outside its home region. Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda are at the centre of the power play with other actors taking up roles and sides.
Ethiopia has succeeded in consistently exerting its power beyond its borders, thereby attracting the interest of great powers over the centuries. For decades Ethiopia had a total grip on Somalia and Somali politics since it aligned its foreign policy towards weakening Mogadishu in the late ’80s.
Kenya had for a long time been a worry of Siyad barre’s plan for Greater Somalia. In the hope of uniting the Somali nation, he pushed for one people one nation agenda. Kenya and Ethiopia have sometimes banded together with varying degrees of success through the Horn and other intraregional endeavours. Even so, the relative homogeneity has not always yielded clear results or prevented rivalries within the core since each party is aware of the unsaid intentions.
Greater Somalia provides a classic case study of regional core competition. The area encompasses the ethnic Somali peoples in Somalia, in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia and in North Eastern Kenya. On a continent in which few regions feature any sort of homogeneity, Greater Somalia is remarkable for its lack of other ethnic groups. Space, however, is riven by clan-based divisions,
while its lack of natural barriers (its mostly level coastline provides easy access to outsiders) and location adjacent to the Ethiopian and Kenyan cores have made it a battleground for influence among outsiders. Ultimately, Somalia’s artificial borders — which left many ethnic Somalis outside the country’s frontiers — and deep internal divisions, as well as the poor decisions made by its leaders in the 1970s and 1980s, helped throw the country into chaos. In a deeper sense, however, Greater Somalia’s lack of geographical boundaries also played a crucial role in facilitating a battle for influence between the powers of the Ethiopian and Kenyan cores. It is, therefore, no coincidence that Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and other members of their respective cores have been the key actors in the African Union Mission in Somalia, the international effort to stabilize the country.
While Kenya was miles ahead of its competitors as a trusted neighbour due to the history and events after the breakup of Somalia, it appears lack of a clear foreign policy towards the Horn has made it lose the latitude on Mogadishu.
All previous Interim Somali federal Governments Presidents were close allies of Kenya including Abdullahi Yusuf and Sheikh Sharif (formerly of the Islamic Courts).
While many think the Maritime Dispute is the genesis of the troubled diplomacy between the two states, international relations experts believe the problems germinated and is cared for in Addis. Kenya has fewer allies at the table of Somalia Discussions. This was well choreographed by the ever offensive Ethiopian Diplomats and the signature lazy approach at Ministry of foreign affairs in Kenya.
Joined at the HIP
Kenya and Somalia have so much potential as allies to develop and become a powerhouse. The world politics around the Gulf of Aden makes it mandatory for Kenya to have a seat at the table of influence over Somalia. The Arabs have continued to be an impediment to a proper realization of peace in the Horn, yet Kenya is unable to grab the opportunity and being the father of the region.
Kenya offers what the Arabs cannot fathom, predictability. The generally stable rule of law and institutions complemented by the 2hr flight between Nairobi and any part of Somalia gives it an edge Kenya needs to rise to the occasion and grab this lifetime opportunity.
This is an old age tactic used by all countries who wish to be influential in other countries. They plan way ahead through students who become future leaders, supporting potential leaders realize their dreams, the use of civil societies within those countries and of course courting the leadership of the day.
Kenya can achieve all that without much effort and more efficiently. Majority of the Somali nationals within the Kenyan borders are heavily invested and perceive Kenya as their number one home followed by Somalia. Imagine if this group of well educated, mostly wealthy individuals who are no burden in any way on Kenya were to be citizens. Imagine the thought they will put in to bringing their Home countries interest to the table as they influence the politics and policy of the second Home.
That is the Jackpot ….
About the Author
Jamal Abdikadir Bachelor of Science Information Technology, Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws & an advocate of the High court of Kenya Work Experience Worked in Banking industry, Energy Sector and Government. Currently in Private legal practice in Kenya.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat editorial policy.
If you want to submit an opinion piece or an analysis please email it to Opinion@horndiplomat.com