By T. Roble
Kenya has cancelled its direct flights deal with Somalia forcing airlines to disembark for security clearance at Wajir airport in Kenya’s northeast barely a month after the two countries ‘normalised’ relations amid a diplomatic fall-out in February.
In a Notice to the Airmen (NOTAM) Kenya Civil Aviation Authority said Thursday all flights from Mogadishu will be required to stop over in Wajir Airport.
“All flights from Mogadishu, Somalia must route via Wajir for security checks before proceeding to their final destinations,” the notice read in part.
It was not immediately clear why the Kenyan authorities made the change barely two years after President Mohamed Farmaajo and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to end the ten-year ban on direct flights from Mogadishu.
The new directive now means passengers to Nairobi from Mogadishu will endure an extra one hour delay to undergo security checks at Wajir Airport.
According to the KCAA notice, the suspension of direct flights will continue until August 9, 2019.
The direct flight’s ban caused the Wajir Airport a monthly $20,000 loss according to the airport’s manager Charles Kiong’a.
The move by Kenya comes amid simmering diplomatic relations between the countries following a decision by Nairobi to eject Somali ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Nur and recalled its own.
But a meeting on April 4 by Foreign Ministers of Kenya, Dr. Monica Juma and Somalia’s Isse Awad in Nairobi noted the countries had ‘normalised relations’ and agreed to send back ambassadors.
“We reaffirmed our strong desire to normalise relations and agreed, as a first step, to have our ambassadors return to station,” Dr Juma wrote on her Twitter page after meeting Mr Awad in Nairobi.
The two countries had been at loggerheads over the February London Oil conference in which Nairobi accused Mogadishu of displaying maps of contested oil blocks in the Indian Ocean border which is now subject to litigation at the International Court of Justice.
But Somalia maintained the contested areas were not part of the maps displayed heralding a bitter dispute which ended with recall and suspension of ambassadors. It is not clear to date if the two ambassadors have returned to their stations.
An earlier meeting between Kenyatta and Farmaajo facilitated by Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed in March ended on a low note amid reports the two sides did not agree on anything substantial regarding the ICJ case. Kenya had been pushing for a withdrawal of the case but sources privy to the meeting indicated Somalia stuck to its guns maintaining the ICJ route was the only option at hand.
The decision Friday whose circumstances remain unclear takes aback passengers and traders who have now got used to one and half hour flights to Nairobi.
KQ FLIGHTS SUSPENSION
Worth noting also is that attempts by Kenya Airways to resume flights to Mogadishu appeared to have faced headwinds forcing the national carrier to postpone flights resumption indefinitely last December.
KQ CEO Sebastian Mikosz told the media in November the airline had faced additional insurance requirements forcing it to delay the flights.
“The additional requirements relate to insurances that the airline has to get for aircraft flying on this route. Approval process is what has delayed a bit and we expect to finalise this process within the shortest time possible,” he said.