By Liban Obsiye
Somalia is still a challenge for most people in Kenya to understand.
Most Kenyans I have met cannot fathom what the genuine issues are in a country blessed with enormous resources both in land and at sea but “plagued by insecurity”.
Many more wonder why the Somalis’ success in Kenya, especially in business and the society generally, cannot be replicated in their homeland.
A Kenyan friend in Nairobi recently told me Kenyans still feel Somalia is broken and, for this, it is difficult for them to think long-term about it apart from being a security threat.
Somalia and Kenya share a land border and a visit to Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb shows the deep people-to-people relations between the citizens.
More importantly, across Kenya, the entrepreneurial spirit and partnership that bind the two peoples is clear for all to see.
In Somalia, the most popular and trusted foreign contractors are Kenyan.
Despite this, the Horn of Africa nation is still predominantly presented as broken and Kenyans are heavily influenced by these barometers.
The fact that Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) are in Somalia as part of the Amisom troops fighting global terrorism alongside the Somali National Army does not help matters.
But neighbours are always closer to each other than with the rest of the town.
Therefore, Kenyans should adopt the Somalia-on-the-mend attitude because the glass is half-full, not half-empty.
Somalia’s new government has prioritised security, economic development, good governance and public services.
These are cross-cutting priorities in both countries, which provide tangible opportunities for cross-border learning and partnerships.
The two governments enjoy strong ties but the best illustration of that radiates from the two peoples.
Somalis and Kenyans have a historic partnership which pre-dates the loud noises of cash registers in Eastleigh Somali hotels and shops.
These relations are familial, neighbourly and, increasingly, based on trade.
Because of this, most Kenyans who have engaged with Somalis and Somalia in any meaningful way understand that the country is not broken but on the rise.
This is the message that needs to be amplified to correct the false narrative.
Just as most Kenyans admire the Somali people’s business acumen, Somalis respect their Kenyan neighbours for their openness, which has allowed them to settle, invest and ride out the worst of the storm of a lengthy civil war.
This respect and admiration must be turned into real economic opportunities on both sides through deeper economic integration and cross-border investment.
Indeed, some real challenges remain for the Somali government to overcome to improve the relations — especially in investment, the most obvious and pressing of these being security.
Defeating Al-Shabaab, who undermine not only Somali but regional and global stability and progress, is a priority for Somalia and Kenya as both have suffered the cowardly, mindless attacks against the innocent.
Some Kenyans label Al-Shabaab Somali but they aren’t; they are international terrorists, a threat to us all, and must be defeated for the common security, progress and prosperity.
No doubt, Somalia’s progress will take time as democratising and fully securing a nation against opportunistic international terrorism cannot be done overnight.
Kenyans, given their rich history, understand that national reforms take time and need unity and patience.
In Somalia, this has finally been understood and, subsequently, Somalia is on the road to recovery.
Kenyans must understand, believe and communicate that Somalia, their good neighbour, is no longer broken; it is slowly mending.
Mr Obsiye, the chief policy coordinator in Somalia’s Ministry of Finance, was also the senior adviser in the Foreign ministry (2013-2017).