The Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, has this week extended an official invitation to the leader of the renegade one-clan secessionist enclave in north west Somalia calling itself Somaliland (former British Somaliland) to visit Kenya. This incomprehensible act, done over the head of the Somali government and so soon after the Istanbul conference on Somalia, is pregnant with dangerous ramifications. It is the last thing that Somalis from Somalia, apart from the secessionists, expected from Kenya; first because of its key role in the search for peace and stability in Somalia and secondly because it is the last country one would expect to flirt with secessionists given its own vulnerability to it. And above all, it is an act that is clearly a blatant interference in Somalia's internal affairs, contrary to the Charters of IGAD, AU and the UN, and amounts to legitimising the secession of a renegade enclave that the international community had shunned for 22 years for good reasons.
If Somalis receive Mr Odinga's invitation to the leader of a secessionist clan in Somalia with deep dismay, the danger this act poses for the member States of IGAD and the wider AU needs little elucidation. Whatever his motives, his action is bound to be received by all dissident-cum-separatist tribes and ethnic minorities in almost all African countries as an invitation to follow suit. Needless to say, the Pandora box this opens would threaten the unity and territorial integrity, if not existence, of every member State of the AU. Given its own history, Kenya above all would be far more vulnerable to clan or ethnic separatist movements than Somalia whose people are the most homogenous in Africa, and whose innate indivisible unity is bound to overcome temporary problems with one dissident misguided clan. Unless there is change of heart and action, Kenya could reap the seeds that its Prime Minister is sowing for Somalia perhaps inadvertently.
No doubt Prime Minister Odinga has fallen for the propaganda and relentless wooing of the secessionist enclave. But he should know that this clan is alone in this secession and that the other four major clans in the region (former British Somaliland) are unionists who will never submit to the break-up of Somalia despite the force the secessionists are using in this regard. Having failed to win recognition since their declaration of secession from Somalia in 1991, following the collapse of the Somali State, and in the face of the opposition to their secession from the unionist clans and also the rest of Somalia, a new realism has been gaining ground among the separatists of the futility and inevitable failure of the secession and the need to reconcile themselves with their fellow Somalis in Somalia.
Mr Odinga was expected to encourage this tendency, all the more so since he and his country have played key role in the London and Istanbul conferences on Somalia. Sadly he chose otherwise. This invitation to Somaliland's secessionist leader, coming at this critical watershed in their flagging struggle, can only provide a badly needed shot in the arm, and give them false hopes that could stiffen their intransigence and unnecessarily prolong their conflict with the unionist clans (in former British Somaliland) and the rest of Somalia. It is difficult to see what Prime Minster Odinga or Kenya can gain from adding fuel to the secession fire. It is in the interests of Kenya and Somalia, not to mention IGAD and the AU, that this invitation is revoked and that the Prime Minister work instead for the objectives of the Istanbul conference and not against it.
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