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The fate of Jubaland hangs on competing interests

Jubaland is going to the ballot in August. External powerful forces want to have a say on who becomes the next president.

Jubaland will be going to the polls in August. This is something that should concern the citizens of Jubaland a lot; after all, it is their country, their president and his cabinet. Yet something very interesting is happening: Regional leaders,  neighbouring countries, international bodies, and first world countries in the West together with global power players from the Arab world are more interested in the preparations, the process and outcome of Jubaland elections more than the people of Jubaland themselves.

It is completely mind boggling, the sheer number of global power brokers circling around Jubaland, the kind of influence that they bring with them and their capacity to sway the outcome of the forthcoming elections. Writing in The Star newspaper in Kenya, Prof Hassan Sheikh Ali, a lecturer of International Relations, Political Science and Diplomatic Studies at Mogadishu and Simad Universities in Mogadishu in February said that there is a reason why the world is so interested in the politics of Jubaland.

In his words:

“Somalia (Jubaland) politics as usual attracts external actors who are part of the game and will play a crucial role in different capacities depending on their interests. The Frontline States because of their national security concerns will be active in influencing their choice. Arab states, particularly the wealthy ones, are known to bankroll candidates to buy their loyalty for geopolitical, security and economic reasons. The major powers, including the Americans and European powers, will be there for their so-called war on terror as well as geopolitical and resources interests such as gas, oil and fishing, which are the most important to them.”

Attracting external players

Qatar, Turkey and Eritrea are some of the countries that have shown keen interest in the upcoming elections in Jubaland. These three are allegedly working on behalf of the president of Somalia Mohammed Farmaajo with the aim of positioning the interests of Somalia ahead of those of the other local and international players when it comes to the outcome of the election.

Turkey itself has had increased activity in the Horn of Africa, getting into multi-billion- dollar investment deals in Somalia and Djibouti, building and running Mogadishu’s airport and docking port. Turkey has deals with the government of Somalia to strengthen its institutional and personnel capacity in health sector, the military and even in education. To add to this, Turkey is one of the leading humanitarian aid donors in Somalia as well as the biggest foreign investor.

It would be fool hardy to assume that when it comes to Jubaland, Turkey will just sit idly by as other nations go for the cake.

Western countries, especially the United States are also interested in who leads Jubaland. For the US, their angle is security and of course where possible, access to the natural resources that Jubaland has in plenty.

Military activity by the US in larger Somalia through their unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) have increased significantly in the last few years and as the US tries to root out Al Shabaab. Getting a dependable local state partner to help them in the fight is a matter of life and death to the US.

Their approach to the elections in Jubaland would be to lobby and ensure that even if they do not get the man that they want in office, the bad guys should not put their man in office either. Britain is said to have a stake in the regional elections and this puts more competitive sault into the election whose outcome is highly awaited.

Jubaland, on the Southern end of Somalia, is of immense importance to Mogadishu since trade through and around the port of Kismayo keeps the entire Southern end functioning and alive.

On this strength alone, the leadership of Jubaland is of critical importance to Mogadishu. President Farmaajo also hails from the region and is said to have personal attachment to its elections.

Protecting borders

When it comes to Kenya and Ethiopia, Jubaland borders the two nations. Meaning the safety, security and political stability of Jubaland remains a priority to these two nations. Keeping their borders safe from the actions of Al Shabaab insurgents (who may slip in through Jubaland and do harm in their countries) is top priority to their security agencies, and therefore to their governments.

Kenya specifically has special interest and special ties to Jubaland. When Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) moved into Somalia as they pursued Al Shabaab, they enlisted the support and help of a local state operator to work with as a partner in their fight against the insurgents. This local operator was the current Jubbaland President Ahmed Madobe.

Man of the moment: Jubbaland President Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe

He helped KDF triumph over Al Shabaab in Kismayo and in other towns. Since then, he has been a close ally of the Kenyan government. Huge but informal cross border trade is also bonding Kenya and Jubbaland current leadership more than ever. If the current maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia is anything to go by, Kenya is likely to support the incumbent Jubbaland president to retain his seat. A known ‘devil’ is better for Kenya in this scenario.

Unlike other federal member states, except Galmudug, Jubbaland has strong forces dubbed Ras Kamboni Brigade, a force that is squarely loyal to the current president.

Recently, the Kenyan Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Macharia Kamau told the leading newspaper in the country that Kenya worked with Jubbaland President (Madobe) in the past because at that moment, he was the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade and because Al Shabaab was a common enemy.

Open secret

In the 2013 Jubbaland elections, it is a known fact that Kenya and Ethiopia indirectly supported Sheikh Islam Madobe. Back then, the decision to support him was tied to the fact that the two countries wanted continued progress towards a peaceful Jubaland (which in return would mean peace on their sides of the border), a dream that has largely become untrue as most of the region is under the control of Al Shabab.

As this year’s election approaches, the Kenyan government through KDF, once more has plans for Jubbaland, and they are the kind of plans that might affect the outcome of the election. As it reduces the number of boots on the ground in Somalia, Kenya has been working on a legacy proposal that will see it move from being a mere provider of soldiers (KDF) to being one of the key parties when it comes to building and strengthening of institutions in in Jubaland.

It is therefore in the interest of the Kenyan government to have a Jubaland president who can and will be able to work with Kenya on this front.

This is not all. Apart from the KDF issue, the minerals and rich natural resources that are found in Jubaland have been pointed out as the possible motivators toward external influence. Even the region that is currently being fought over (the case is at the International Court of Justice) by Kenya and Somalia lies along Jubaland.

Ethiopia and its silent moves

Ethiopia on the other hand is currently said to be lobbying for the removal of KDF control over the port of Kismayo so that it (Ethiopia) can have access and control of the port for import services mostly. TSI cannot independently verify this claim.

For Somalia, a peaceful election and continuity or transition of power could be seen as the ultimate test to the larger peaceful nation image that the Mogadishu is trying to project to the world. Mogadishu needs this to go well and they are definitely pulling the strings as to how well that might be.

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