Kenya’s interest in volatile Somalia is of security, commercial and geopolitical nature. Its interests are acute because it suffers directly from the Somalia instability. As a result, Kenya follows events in Somalia closely, the latest being the scheduled presidential election in the autonomous state of Jubaland.
Jubaland is an example of the way Europeans settled Euro-disputes by sacrificing Africans. They treated African territories and peoples as trading properties. To some extent, Jubaland is conceptually part of the British Kenya colonial state, rather than Italian Somaliland because it was part of British East Africa, then Crown Colony and later Protectorate of Kenya.
Its major town, Kismayu, served Britain as the place of exile for anti-colonial trouble makers like Mekatilili wa Menza and Harry Thuku. While Mekatilili had the temerity to slap colonial official Arthur Champion in a public rally, Thuku ridiculed Governor Edward Northey in public rallies. Kismayu lost its role as a place to exile trouble makers due to political changes in Europe.
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Post Great War Europe was tense, fluid, and offered opportunities for demagogues and rough people to rise. Among them was socialist Benito Mussolini who organised Italian street thugs in quest for power. He grabbed power, like Julius Caesar before him, by marching into Rome. He then intensified demands for territorial compensation for Italian participation on the side of the allies in the Great War—1914-1918.
Mussolini found an ally in Britain when Labour Party leader James Ramsay Macdonald became prime minister. From January 1924 to November 1924, besides recognising socialistic Soviet Union, MacDonald agreed to transfer Jubaland to Italy to appease and please fellow socialist Mussolini. The southern-most point of the transferred territory was ‘Dick’s Head’ or Ras Kiambone. Jubaland, therefore, was ill-fitting in Italian Somaliland.
It still is ill-fitting in fragmented Somalia, evincing autonomy and stability not found in other Somali states. The fragmentation was largely because it was based on mythical Somali commonality and unity. Guided by irredentist dreams represented by Siad Barre’s adventures, it pretended that Somalia was ethnically homogeneous.
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This led to the Ogaden War and the subsequent end of the Barre imperialism. Once the ‘glue’ melted, the differences of identity exploded into little states and exposure of hidden ethnic diversity. As opportunistic terror groups such as the Al Shabaab and assorted warlords took control of Somalia, individual states started asserting their autonomy from Mogadishu, unable to depend on it for their own safety.
While some Mogadishu officials appeared to dilly-dally with terror groups, there were those who wanted to contain them and get their states moving. Jubaland, with its diverse ethnic and colonial identity, was one of them. It welcomed Kenya’s help in containing the Al Shabaab terror group. The main man in that effort was Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe, or “Blackie”, leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade who, with Kenya’s help drove the Al Shabaab out of Jubaland in 2012. This helped him to win the presidential election in May 2013 and is up for re-election in August 2019.
SEE ALSO :Fishermen flee Kismayu in fear of Jubaland poll chaos
His chances of re-election are high. He vows to end youth radicalisation and to finish the Al Shabaab in Jubaland. He has the support of clan elders in Garissa, Kenya, but not that of President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed alias Farmajo, an American citizen, in Mogadishu. Farmajo is not the only foreigner running the Somalia Federal Government for euro interests. Besides having problems being independent, Farmajo has the endorsement of some Arab countries who also want Blackie out. The Arab League, apart from pouring money into the campaign to have Blackie lose, has also warned Kenya not to question Somalia irredentism into Kenyan waters.
Other than neighbourliness and cultural attachment, Kenya has direct interest in the smooth running of the presidential election in Jubaland. These include national and regional security that can be enhanced by a candidate of proven commitment to defeating the Al Shabaab terror group. Given that instability generates refugees who end up burdening Kenya, it would be foolhardy to ignore the fact that some candidates who oppose Madobe, with external endorsements, have close ties to bad people. Since these would intensify insecurity in the region, ensuring credible and peaceful election is in Kenya’s interest.
Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU