Kenya has suspended flights to and from Somalia, just days after the countries restored diplomatic ties after a five-month break.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority sent a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) stating that all flights between the two countries are suspended except medivac and United Nations humanitarian flights, according to a Somali official who did not want to be identified because he is not allowed to speak to media.
The suspension is effective May 11 until at least August 9.
VOA Somali service has seen KCAA’s notice, issued on May 10, which confirms suspension of flights.
KCAA has not yet announced the reason for the suspension, but it comes a day after Somalia issued a notice reaffirming an earlier ban on flights carrying khat, also known as mirra, from Kenya.
“Carrying Mirra to Somalia is still prohibited and the policy of the Federal Government of Somalia did not change regarding the transportation of Miraa to Somalia airports,” read a statement sent to airline operators by the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) on May 9. “Transporting Mirra without clearance from SCAA will be considered an unlawful act and violation of Somali airspace,” the notice added.
Khat is a green narcotic stimulant grown in Kenya that is widely used in Somalia.
Kenya’s suspension of flights downgrades relations that seemed to be on the upswing. Just last week, Somalia announced it was restoring diplomatic ties with Kenya after mediation by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
In December 2020, Somalia had cut diplomatic ties with Kenya, alleging constant violations of Somalia’s sovereignty and interference in internal affairs. Kenya denied the accusations. The countries also have an ongoing maritime boundary dispute over who controls Indian Ocean waters believed to contain large deposits of oil and natural gas.
Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs cautiously welcomed the restoration of ties and said it was looking forward to normalizing relations in terms of trade, communication, transportation, people to people relations and cultural exchanges.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya takes note of a press release issued by Somali authorities reestablishing their diplomatic relations with Kenya. pic.twitter.com/oZaaFYEPbO – — ForeignAffairsKenya (@ForeignOfficeKE) May 7, 2021
Somali authorities initially suspended of all international flights in March 2020 after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country. The suspension on international flights was lifted in August but a ban on khat flights remained in place. Officials in Somalia insisted the reason for maintaining the suspension is to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
However, last year Somalia started allowing flights from Ethiopia to transport khat. At least four flights carrying Khat arrive in Somalia daily from the eastern Ethiopia city of Dire Dawa, according to traders.
A National Airways PLC plane carrying several tons of khat from Ethiopia has arrived at Mogadishu airport on Saturday. This is the first flight from Ethiopia to deliver khat directly to Mogadishu, and it comes as Somalia refuses to allow Kenya khat flights to fly to Somalia. pic.twitter.com/BtqjvIwfBk – Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) October 17, 2020
The khat business has been lucrative for Kenya farmers. Before the suspension, as many as 15 Kenya flights carrying the narcotic stimulant used to make deliveries in several regions in Somalia per day. The continued suspension denies Kenya farmers millions of dollars in earnings from business with Somalia.
Somalia activists are pressuring the federal government not to lift ban Khat as they argue the stimulant is associated with poor health and loss of hard currency.
Kenya sends us drugs that destroys our society’s health & well-being – putting our sense of livelihoods in jeapardy- Somalia sends real business & $$$. Kenya a loser in this transaction. They now doubling down on idiocy. pic.twitter.com/5xDiDmDK0h – Abukar Awale ( Qaaddiid ) (@Abukarawale) May 11, 2021