Kenya Airways (KQ, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) and other Kenyan airlines will, by end of March 2021, commence direct flights between Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta and Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, the breakaway region of Somalia seeking international recognition.

In a move that has angered Mogadishu, Kenya openly recognised the secessionist region by announcing it would open a consulate in Hargeisa by the end of March 2021, while Somaliland would simultaneously upgrade its liaison office in Nairobi.

The announcement was made in a joint statement after a two-day official visit to Kenya on December 13 and 14 by Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi at the invitation of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.

The move was not well received by the Somali government which cut diplomatic ties with Kenya on December 14, the day after Adbi arrived in Nairobi. In a late-night announcement on national television, Somali Minister for Information Osman Dubbe accused Kenya of constantly interfering with Somalia’s internal affairs and of violating Somalia’s sovereignty. He said Kenyan diplomats in Mogadishu had seven days to leave the country.

A week before Somalia had expelled Kenyan Ambassador to Somalia, Lucas Tumbo, and recalled their envoy to Nairobi, Mohamud Ahmed Tarzan, following a similar complaint of interference. Somalia had also submitted a complaint to the regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), ahead of an upcoming virtual summit on conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region scheduled for December 20.

The diplomatic row is likely to affect airlines plying the route between Nairobi and Mogadishu. These include Kenya’s Freedom Airline Express (4F, Nairobi Wilson), Jubba Airways (Kenya) (3J, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta), and African Express Airways (XU, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta); as well as Somali virtual carrier Ocean Airlines (Somalia) (Mogadishu); and Daallo Airlines (D3, Djibouti) from Djibouti, according to the ch-aviation PRO airlines module.

As a consequence of a civil war in Somalia, Somaliland unilaterally declared independence in 1991. The territory has been governed by democratically elected governments that seek international recognition, but Somalia regards it as an integral part of its territory. The region lies in north-western Somalia, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, and has valuable oil deposits.

In their joint statement, Kenyatta and Abdi said their talks had focused on the expansion of bilateral trade, enhancing collaboration in air transport including enabling direct flights between Nairobi and Hargeisa, and cooperation between the ports of Mombasa and Berbera, amongst others. They committed to cooperate in areas including agriculture, education, energy, and transport; and would collaborate in combating Islamist insurgents in the region.