Kenya has been more generous, more supportive and kinder to Somali people than any other country in the greater Horn of Africa region. It has hosted the largest Somali refugees in one of the world’s biggest refugee complex shortly after Somalia’s civil war broke out in 1991. Those who were once refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma are among today’s most successful persons in Kenya and even in other parts of the world. Just to give an example, Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim black congresswoman in the US was once a refugee in Dadaab for four years after fleeing Somalia’s conflict. Kenya and Somalia have enjoyed long neighborhood partnership bonded by brotherhood, shared values and of course shared borders between the two countries. Thousands of Somali nomads cross the border between Somalia and Kenya every day for businesses, trade and other work related purposes.
Somalis in Kenya
Currently an estimated number of 2.5 million Somalis live permanently or temporary in Kenya making them among one of the largest ethnic community of the 43 tribes in Kenya. As matter of fact, Somali ethnic decent lived in Kenya before the colonial rule. In the early 20thcentury, the Somali speaking community which were mostly nomads established themselves in the northeastern regions of Kenya.
However, during the past decade or so, there has been a serious mistreatments faced by many Somalis travelling to Kenya as well as those who live inside Kenya. Those who are transiting at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are not spared too. It all starts with applying Kenya visa by Somali passport holders which is extremely bureaucratic and costly process. It might be difficult to believe but a Somali citizen has to pay at least $500 on top the normal visa fee which is just $50 to get Kenyan Single entry visa. It has become lucrative business for many notorious travel agents and corrupted Kenyan immigration officials. This is non-negotiable fee and failing to pay that amount means no visa will be granted.
What happened?/ What went wrong?
A Somali citizen who had serious skull injury had to wait his medical visa for 10 days almost giving it up. Later on, he was granted only after the Kenyan immigration was pressured by colleagues from UN and other international agencies.
A mother and her children who had appointment with the Swedish embassy in Nairobi had to travel by road all the way from Mogadishu to Nairobi after their visas were rejected four times. She was asked to pay the illegal visa fee ($500) which was beyond her capacity with her 6 children. That would have been $3,500.
Another humanitarian aid worker (Somali passport holder) had to miss two international conferences in Geneva after he missed his visa appointment in Nairobi. He was waiting his Kenyan visa in Mogadishu for almost one month. In fact the visa was issued by the Kenyan embassy in Mogadishu but they kept telling him that it was under process. They wanted him to pay extra fees.
Transiting at JKIA
For Somalis transiting at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) it is even worse. They have to spend long hours at the transit area because they are not allowed to either the country under any circumstances while on transit. However, the irony is that all other East African countries including those neighboring to Somalia (Djibouti, Ethiopia etc) as well as most African countries are granted their visas on arrival at JKIA.
The Kenyan government puts strict visa measures for Somali passport holders using “security threat” as pretext but this is beyond just protecting the country and its people. It understandable, given Somalia‘s current security context, that they protect their borders and their people but charging Somalis with $500 for single visa is totally unacceptable.
The Kenyan immigration law allows its authorities to control who is entering Kenya and they have the right to deny some people from entering their country if and only if considered to be security threat for their country and their citizens. However, this illegal visa fees must be discontinued.
Kenyan citizens travelling to Somalia
Unlike Somalis who are mistreated and humiliated at JKIA, Kenyan nationals who are willing to visit or work in Somalia enjoy visa on arrival arrangements. The moment a Kenyan citizen decides to fly to Somalia, all he/she needs is to book a ticket, pack his/her bag and fly to Mogadishu next day! While in Adan Adde International Airport or any other airport in the country, the Kenyan national will be granted 90 days stay visa upon his/her arrival.
There are hundreds of Kenyans and other nationals working with UN, INGOs, private businesses such as hotels, restaurants in Mogadishu who regularly visit Somalia which is actually good indication that Somalia is becoming open and more generous to foreigners. However, all of them are granted visa on arrival.
Unbalanced diplomatic relations
The diplomatic and trade relationship between Somalia and Kenya can be termed as unbalanced and one-sided which only benefits Kenyans. For instance, Somalia imports Khat (Mira) from Kenya on daily bases. Khat is time-consuming, economically destructive and healthily dangerous drug chewed by Somalis. It’s very addictive drug that has negative impact on the lives of humans. According to the article published on Foreign Policy Journal, around 15 cargo planes or more arrive in Somalia on daily basis carrying tons of Khat leaves costing millions of dollars.
Moreover, Somalia imports coffee from Kenya in large numbers. In fact, by the very recent statistics, Somalia has become third largest importer of Kenyan products. According to and , Somalia became the third largest destination for Kenya’s merchandise on the continent.
Somalis go to Kenya for medical as well as educational purposes. Additionally, since the collapse of Somalia’s central government, there were no functioning embassies and consulates in Mogadishu. Therefore, most of Somalis travelling abroad would fly to Kenya for visa appointments. So far, Somalis contribute a lot to the Kenyan economy. From the Somalia side, there is no significant export to Kenya, which means that Somalia is in very high trade deficit with its Kenyan counterpart.
Given the tiring and expensive process of Kenyan visa for Somalis, the mistreatment and demands for bribe at JKIA, the hunt down and discrimination by Police Officers against Somalis inside Kenya while having their legal visas, and other inappropriate acts by the corrupt Kenyan Immigration Officers; it’s necessary that both Somali and Kenyan governments urgently address this matter.
From the Kenyan government’s side, it’s essential that they change their policy towards Somalis regarding the visa process and treatment within Kenya. The Kenyan government must put an end to the current unjust practices against Somali citizens. It should also bring accountable the corrupt immigration officers who are found guilty of any mistreatments, particularly at JKIA where Somali national travelling with their Somali passports are intimidated and forced to pay bribes.
The Somali Federal government should also address this issue and sit with its Kenyan counterpart by demanding change in the visa process and resolve this matter diplomatically.
If our call is ignored
If, however, Kenyans ignore the Somali government’s call, the last resort is to touch the weak point of Kenya. This means that the Somali government should increase tariffs on Khat imported from Kenya which will hurt the Kenyan economy. If this strategy fails, there should be total ban of the Khat.
It should also encourage its citizens to shift to Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, for visa appointments, medical checkups or connecting with other flights. This is because; the Ethiopian government has recently opened its borders to all Africans including Somali citizens. As matter of fact, all Somali passport holders can now get their visa on arrival at Addis Ababa Bole international airport.