By MALKHDIR M MUHUMED
Al-Shabaab could take advantage of the row between Somalia government and leaders of the Kismayu-based Jubaland State, a new report has warned.
Researchers called on key stakeholders to resolve the crisis immediately and strengthen Mogadishu’s authority. The report called on leaders in Somalia’s capital to “robustly engage” Nairobi and reassure their legitimate security concerns by sharing a workable plan to stabilise border regions.
“The growing crisis in Kismayu has the potential to undermine the Somali Federal Government,” said the researchers. “It also threatens to bring the fragile and recovering nation back to the brink of civil war.
“The report warns of hardening political positions over the fate of the port city that could “destabilise the entire country if not properly dealt with”.
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“The government (of Somalia) is mortgaging its political capital to undermine the efforts to establish a ‘Jubaland’ state,” the report warned.
The document, prepared by The Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, called on President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to endorse the current leader of the Jubaland State, Ahmed Mohamed Islam, to lead a fresh interim administration that paves the way for the formation of a new federal state in the region. Islam, better known as Ahmed Madobe, was on May 15 elected president by hundreds of clan elders who met in Kismayu. Mohamud rejected the vote as unconstitutional and unilateral.
A regional bloc has recently urged Mogadishu to “convene and lead a reconciliation conference” to chart out a way to set up an interim administration in regions recently liberated by Kenyan and allied forces. In the interim, though, it called upon the stakeholders in Kismayu “to go to Mogadishu and dialogue with the Federal Government”.
Mohamed Husein Gaas, a Horn of Africa analyst with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, said it “not practical” for the federal Government at this stage to lead a reconciliation conference on Jubaland because it has lost the trust of the people in the region.
“What is imperative now is to launch a substantial trust building between Mogadishu and Kismayu, and that begins with the recognition of the elected administration of Jubaland,” Gaas said.
Ethiopia and Kenya have spearheaded IGAD’s process to help Somalia’s government in setting up local administrations in the country. Both countries are wary of insurgent groups operating in Somalia who can easily penetrate their vast, porous borders.
The Heritage Institute’s recommendation is significant as it is comes from researchers whose clan, Hawiye, is overwhelmingly against the Jubaland State. It also shows that some Hawiye are willing to differ with President Mohamud. When the President burst onto the political scene in September last year, many Somalis, regardless of their clan affiliations, welcomed him as a unifying figure. But his stand on the Jubaland issue has cost him popularity among members of the Darod clan, who now accuse him of trying to impose a Hawiye hegemony on other clans.
“First, the Kismayu crisis should be recognized as a critical reconciliation issue that requires creative political solutions,” the report said. “Second, the (Somali Federal Government) must recognize the realities on the ground and articulate a pragmatic political dispensation.”
The most sensible dispensation, said the researchers behind the report, is to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of the people of Kismayu and its environs. They added that battlefield sacrifices made by the pro-Kenya force of Ras Kiamboni in capturing the city cannot be gainsaid. The Ras Kiamboni fighters — led by Madobe — fought alongside Kenyan forces during their year-long push to wrest Kismayu from the Al-Qaeda-allied Al Shabaab group.
“(Somalia’s government) should endorse its leader as the interim head of an administration in Lower Jubba, for a period of no more than two years,” the report said. The Heritage Institute chided all the key players in Jubaland – the Somali government, the Kenyan Defence Forces and the Ras Kiamboni group – for having strategic objectives that are “demonstrably different,” while still sharing the short-term goal of defeating Al Shabaab.
The report urged the country’s parliament – whose role, it said, has so far “oscillated between absence and complicity” – to intervene “to spare Somalia from slipping back into widespread conflict”. “The (Somalia parliament) must approve the Boundaries and Federation Commission in order to move the federalism debate forward and develop policies for the establishment of federal states,” it said.
The report terms Kenya’s foray into Somali politics as “misguided”, recommending that Nairobi “open a new chapter between the two nations—a relationship that is anchored in a mutual respect, collaboration and coexistence. The sooner both sides recognize the limits of their authority, the sooner a satisfactory solution to the crisis can be found.”
It adds: “A compromise is possible only if both sides are willing to accommodate their differences within the framework of the Provisional Constitution on the sharing of power, resources, and national obligations.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta said earlier this week that Kenya has “no intention of interfering with the domestic affairs of Somalia” and that his government’s “only agenda is to support the establishment of administrative structures as well as institutions necessary for the stabilization and reconstruction of Somalia.”
Still, Mogadishu believes Kenya is propping up Islam in its bid to create a friendly state that serves as a buffer zone against Al Shabaab infiltrators. The report calls on the real antagonists – Mogadishu and Kismayu – to give dialogue a chance and tone down their “toxic” rhetoric as mistrust among rival clans already runs deep.
Somalia’s government fears the success of Jubaland State may set a precedent for unregulated and disorderly emergence of more federal member states.
On the other hand, the report notes notes, other regions are fearful that if the government succeeds in leading the process, they will be required to seek approval and guidance from Mogadishu before they embark on the process of federal state formation. The report recommended the international community mobilize its political and financial resources to help the local administration in Kismayu achieve its objectives.