Somalia’s Foreign Minister Abdusalam Hadliye Omer says that in this "turbulent time," his country nevertheless has a warm relationship with neighboring Kenya, which has provided troops to fight al-Shabab.
Kenya has attributed recent terror attacks on its territory to the presence of Somali refugees in its sprawling Dadaab camps, a claim denied by the refugees. Some Kenyan authorities have called for the camps to be closed and their residents to be sent to liberated areas under the control of African Union forces and the Somali government.
In an interview Saturday with VOA, Omer noted that "there are elements in our region that want to divide us" by pitting nations and religions against each other. But he said he was not bothered by reports that Kenya, for security reasons, has considered building a wall along its border.
A country can do as it wishes, Omer said, but he asked whether any such wall would solve security problems.
Omer said that Somalia believes the border should be open to allow trade, the movement of people, and the sharing of culture and education. He said Somalia needs the human resources of Kenya "to come and help us rebuild Somalia."
"I think there is a lot of good will and good relationships to build on, rather than to divide" the countries. Walls, he said, "are not the answer."
He expressed gratitude for the young Kenyan men and women who had come to battle al-Shabab forces in the Juba Valley, and he said there should be stepped-up sharing of intelligence and surveillance among countries fighting such Islamist groups.
The Somali army at present, he said, is "strong enough to kick out al-Shabab," noting that the group had been left with diminished resources. But terror groups, he said, are now looking for "soft targets" in Somalia and Kenya, such as hotels and universities, which because of their openness to the public are difficult to defend.
Attacks on such targets, he said, are designed only to cause the highest possible amount of damage to communities. Elements of al-Shabab, he said, simply want "to cause harm."
"There's a good story to tell" about refugees returning to Somalia from the Dadaab camps and from Yemen, Omer said, denying that he had characterized all of them as posing a security threat. The refugees are running to Somalia, not away from it, he noted — though elements within such groups, he said, may want to slip back into the Horn of Africa and create chaos.