NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali and Kenyan officials have agreed to jointly investigate the crash of a private cargo plane in Somalia on Monday, an incident many thought could further escalate political tensions between the two countries.
The Kenyan-registered aircraft was undertaking a humanitarian mission when it crashed in the town of Bardale, in the southwestern Bay region of Somalia. The plane, which belonged to the African Express Airways, plunged around 3:30 p.m. local time, killing all six people on board. The plane was delivering supplies related to the coronavirus pandemic and had initially left the Somali capital Mogadishu for Bardale.
Officials have said the cause of the crash remains unclear, but there is speculation that it was shot down.
While members of the Somali militant group Al Shabab remain active in southern Somalia, Bardale and its airstrip are secured by Somali forces, as well as Ethiopian troops who are part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in the country.
Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, invited Kenyan civil aviation authorities to team up with their Somali counterparts to investigate the crash. Mr. Mohamed also said the government had “increased aviation safety measures” to ensure that much-needed supplies reached their intended recipients.
Somalia’s transportation minister, Mohamed Abdullah Salad, along with senior Kenyan and Ethiopian officials, visited the site of the crash on Wednesday.
With 835 confirmed coronavirus infections, Somalia has the highest number of cases in the whole of eastern Africa, behind Djibouti, which has 1,120 cases. Somalia has a weak health care system, and humanitarian organizations have warned in recent weeks that many cases were going untested and undetected.
“The situation is on the verge of spiraling out of control,” said Richard Crothers, the Somalia country director for the International Rescue Committee. “We are seeing widespread community transmission in a country that will not be able to handle a multitude of severely ill patients at once.”
Beyond decades of violence, the country has in the past year alone faced a severe drought, flooding and a devastating locust invasion, leaving millions of Somalis displaced and hungry across the country.
“To say that the people of Somalia have already suffered enough would be an understatement,” Mr. Crothers said.
The crash of the private cargo plane comes amid monthslong strained relations between Kenya and Somalia. In March, tensions worsened after Kenya said that infighting between federal Somali government troops and forces loyal to a regional leader had spilled over onto Kenyan territory. In April, Kenyan security officials said that members of the Somali army attacked Kenyan defense forces who were on patrol.
The International Court of Justice is also adjudicating a long-simmering maritime border dispute between the two nations, with public hearings set for next month.
While details of the crash remain scant, “any suspicions of foul play will have serious consequences” for regional security, said Omar Mahmood, senior Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group, an organization that seeks to prevent deadly conflicts.
“Getting a clear answer on what happened and managing the investigation in a cooperative and transparent manner will be critical to avoiding a blame game that spirals out of control,” he said.
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.