Suspicions that Qatar is involved in funding terrorism could roil Kenya’s trade relations with the Middle East country, even as neighbours in the Gulf tightened sanctions.
On the second day of the Gulf Crisis when Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, Nairobi chose to wait and see.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said her office would comment on the crisis only after receiving adequate briefing from Kenyan diplomats in the region.
On Tuesday, security experts said Kenya should take seriously the accusations against Qatar as they may directly affect how it handles its own counter-terrorism measures.
“There had been talk (of sponsoring terrorism) in private about Qatar but now that it has come to the public, we need to make it public that this is how we intend to take our relations with them going forward,” said Maj (Rtd) Simiyu Werunga, a security analyst.
ENGAGE WITH QATAR
He added: “Once we confirm these claims as others have done, we need to make a decision on the diplomatic front on how we need to engage with Qatar.”
The four countries jointly claim Qatar has been financing ‘terrorists’ inside Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as in Yemen where Saudi Arabia has been leading an international military coalition to defend embattled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Yemeni’s Houthi rebels are supported by Iran, which the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) accuse of receiving support from Qatar.
In addition, Egypt, accuses Qatar of using the media to incite terror groups and providing a safe haven for the Muslim Brotherhood, a proscribed group in Egypt, and which has been linked to some terror merchants in the region.
INVEST IN KENYA
Maj (Rtd) Werunga argues that Doha’s involvement in the region should offer hints on how Nairobi should engage with them.
“Qatar has pledged to invest a lot of money in this country. They have also been investing in the region and especially they want to set up military installations in Djibouti and Somaliland despite the fact that the Somali Constitution is about federation and that Somaliland is not a sovereign state,” he said.
Qatar denies the accusations but has refused to retaliate against a ban on its airlines using the airspace of the four countries, free movement of its nationals to the four and an order against trade deals with Qatar.
Experts, however, say the move by Qatar’s neighbours shows the world is more concerned about security as a main factor in relations.
“The claim needs to be verified but the move by Gulf nations sends a very serious message that anyone suspected of funding terrorists will not be taken lightly,” said Dr Patrick Maluki, a lecturer of diplomacy at the University of Nairobi.
“Vigilance is the word and we should not trust anyone when it comes to security. Not everyone coming with business deals should be trusted,” he told the Nation.
Qatar hosts an estimated 10,000 Kenyan professionals.
The number of Kenyans could be higher if one includes domestic workers who troop there, defying a government ban on such employment in the Middle East.
Qatar Airways flies to Nairobi and was planning to launch direct flights to Mombasa.
These flights could be affected since Saudi Arabia has banned the airline in its airspace and an alternative route to Kenya will be longer and more expensive.
On Tuesday, the airline said all its operations were “normal” except where the four countries were involved.
In 2014, Qatar became the first Gulf nation to sign an anti-double taxation law with Nairobi, relieving export products destined for Doha from further charges.
In April, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani was in Nairobi with more than two dozen dollar billionaires from the gulf nation forming his delegation.
The Qataris said they were following up on the agreements and MoUs signed with President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014.