Miraa traders in Kenya are up in arms after Somalia turned back an aircraft that was delivering 13.6 tonnes of khat to Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway Somaliland region.
Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) chairman Kimathi Munjuri said the cargo plane was turned back on Saturday despite having received clearance to leave Nairobi and deliver the highly prized commodity to Hargeisa.
Hargeisa, a major consumer of Ethiopian khat, is experiencing a shortage of the stimulant due to ethnic unrest that has hit Ethiopia’s expansive Oromia region for the last five days.
Flight 5YMSA, which had overflight and landing clearance from Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority, turned back and landed at Wajir International Airport.
According to Somalia based news sites, the cargo plane was denied entry due to the country’s air travel restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Somalia banned miraa imports three months ago to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Despite Somaliland declaring unilateral independence in 1991, the issue of air traffic control is yet to be agreed on between Mogadishu and Hargeisa.
The semi-autonomous state is in talks with Somalia, spearheaded by Djibouti, to resolve longstanding differences.
Airspace control is one of the issues Somaliland wants to be solved in the talks that resumed late last month in Djibouti.
The move by Somalia was reportedly received with protests in Hargeisa by expectant miraa chewers who are hit by the shortage.
Mr Munjuri said traders’ losses would run into Sh8 million if the khat is not delivered on time.
“The miraa is valued at about Sh3 million, Sh2.5 million goes to transport. There are other logistics costs, which cannot be refunded. We had approvals from Somaliland Civil Aviation Authority to deliver the miraa. Everything was in order until the aircraft entered the Somalia airspace. The pilot was told that he was carrying illegal cargo,” he said.
Mr Munjuri decried the slow pace of the Foreign Affairs ministry to address the trade stalemate with Somaliland.
“We have even been trying to have the Somalia border reopened to facilitate trade but nothing seems to be moving.
“The Ministry of Trade and Agriculture have been engaging Foreign affairs on various issues. All miraa trade issues seem to be stuck at Foreign Affairs,” he said.
Somaliland withdrew all Covid-19 restrictions including public gatherings and international flights on June 23.
The incident came a day after Kenyan investors and State officials held talks with Somaliland President Muse Bihi in Hargeisa.