Kenya government walks a tightrope in Somalia as Kismayo gets new leader


Somalia’s clan elders have created a new mini-state and elected a Kenyan ally as its leader, a move likely to anger Mogadishu and sour ties between the two neighbouring countries.

Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has reportedly welcomed the development, strongly rejected by the Somalia government.

“The Somali Federal Government regrets the way the people in Jubas and Kismayo are being misled,” read a statement from the office of the Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon.

Nairobi and Mogadishu have been at loggerheads over how to manage regions liberated last year by KDF and Amisom. And Igad has been pushing for a local driven administration, which Mogadishu has strongly resisted arguing it has the prerogative to name governors.

Mogadishu has tried to frustrate Igad efforts to set up the pro-Kenya administration of Jubaland that will be headquartered in Kismayo town.

Over the last months, the Somalia government has dispatched delegations to Kismayu to discourage local leaders from setting up an administration that could be hostile to its interests.

 But clan elders convened a meeting in February attended by about 500 representatives drawn from all the clans in Jubaland, selected a new flag, a charter and elected Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, popularly known as Ahmed Madobe, as president. Mr Abdinasir Serar, the spokesman for the interim committee that ran Kismayo until Wednesday confirmed the meeting and elections took place.

Old hostilities

KDF spokesman Cyrus Oguna hailed the election of Madobe saying: “Having a government out of the efforts of the Somali people, is something that is worth applauding.”

“I think it is a good thing because it shows that the political process is eventually bearing fruit and it is a process that has been spear-headed by delegates drawn from various clans in Jubbaland. It was actually a Somali-led process,” Col Oguna told The Standard on Sunday in an interview on Thursday.

 Efforts to reach Jubaland President were futile but Serar said he was busy conducting affairs of the new state. In an interview with the BBC Somali Service, however, Madobe said he garnered 485 votes out of the 500 votes cast.

He warned Mogadishu not to interfere with Jubaland saying: “If any problem takes place in the city, the government will be held responsible for it.”

Moments after Madobe was elected president, Mr Barre Aden Shire, popularly known as Barre HIiraale, declared he was president, duly elected by residents.

It is believed Hiiraale is a Mogadishu project to scuttle Jubaland.

And that was clear from Shirdon’s statement: “The Somali government can’t recognise two presidents for Jubaland.”

The emotive Kismayo issue has pitted inhabitants of Gedo, lower Juba and middle Juba regions against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, accusing him of stirring up old hostilities among clans to get a foothold for his Hawiye clan in the regions.

Kenya and Ethiopia, which have been supporting Somalia’s government in determining the political and administrative arrangements for the liberated areas, are caught up in conflict between Somali clans.

Sources said Somalia government wrote a protest letter last year to the UN to complain about Kenya’s move to help establish Jubaland state. Jubaland administration is likely to rival Mogadishu’s authority in three southern regions predominantly inhabited by the Darod clan. Eight of the 15 districts of the regions are now under the control of the allied forces.

Took control

However, Kenya and Somali continue to exhibit good neighborliness. Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud attended President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration, and days later met him in Mombasa.

President Mohamud told The Standard on Sunday last year that his country’s ties with Kenya are “very, very good” and expects this to improve in future.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Mohamud is paying a lot of interest to the Kismayo issue.

Immediately after his return from a trip to Nairobi and Kampala, Uganda last December, he led a delegation to Kismayo to meet locals.

Both sides – the interim administration in Kismayo led by Madobe, and the government side led by the Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled – said at the time that they would take locals’ views into account– but that was the beginning of many bitter talks.

Historically, Kismayo has been a flashpoint city since the collapse of the country’s government more than two decades ago.

In the early 1990s, Hawiye led militias took control of the city, and many businessmen seized farms and land in lower Juba and middle Juba regions after their owners fled from the fighting. Hawiye charcoal traders from central regions and other parts of the country have also moved to the regions, to set up small villages.

One Somali Member of Parliament from lower Jubba region told The Standard on Sunday that President Mohamud asked him during a meeting: “What will we do with the people who moved to the region because the original owners are no longer there?”

There are many interpretations of Mogadishu’s reluctance to let Kismayo residents have their own administration as provided by the Constitution.

Many locals believe that the Mogadishu can’t afford to lose three of the most resourceful regions in the country to the Darod clan. They argue that if Kismayo port becomes fully functional, it can overtake Mogadishu, because of revenue from cargo that traditionally went to Mogadishu. Also, proximity to north-eastern part of Kenya is very strategic to Jubaland administration.