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Outside View: Somalia's Jubaland
Friday, May 24, 2013

Vote for a leader of Somalia's state of Jubaland is an important step in political development of the region.

Following a quarter-century of civil wars and absentee governance, Jan. 17 of this year saw the United States recognize the modern state of the Federal Republic of Somalia after President Hassan Sheik Mohamud traveled to Washington to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Much ado was made about the recognition of the newly legitimized government but inconsistent coverage of subsequent events has left much of the world in the dark about how the new Somali government is performing.

As news coverage of U.S. defense and security issues in the intervening four months has centered on sequestration, personnel appointments, the Afghan drawdown and the pivot to Asia, there are many formative events transpiring in the Horn of Africa that that have garnered little coverage in Western media.

Recent reporting on events across Somalia has delivered piecemeal information but provides little context for those who haven't been carefully following the complex developments and relationships taking shape within in the nascent state of Somalia.

One of the most pivotal movements that have emerged as the country settles into its new role and reforms its identity is the recent establishment of the Jubaland state.

The initiative to assert the independence of Jubaland took root in 2009 when a common consensus began forming amongst local clan, commercial and political leaders (as well as neighboring Kenyan interests) that there was a shared desire to oust the al-Qaida-linked Islamist militant group al-Shabaab from the administrative regions of Gedo and Middle and Lower Juba that make up Jubaland.

To this end, the regional body Inter-Governmental Authority on Development established a Somalia Peace Facilitation Office that has worked to set up frameworks to establish a Jubaland state modeled on Somalia's other autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

The move to establish JubalandsState is constitutional under the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia, which was adopted in Aug. 1. Chapter 5 of the Constitution includes a detailed discussion of the "Devolution of the Powers of State in the Federal Republic of Somalia," which allows for the formation of semi-autonomous regions in Somalia when specific requirements are met.

Only weeks after the provisional constitution's adoption and the official formation of the Somali Federal Government of Somalia in August, Jubaland made great strides in establishing its own legitimacy as a semi-autonomous entity. Kenyan defense forces under AMISOM command and allied Somali groups -- particularly the local Ras Kamboni militia -- defeated al-Shabaab fighters and regained control of the regional hub of Kismayo in September.

As the SFG got its footing in Mogadishu an interim local political movement formed in Kismayo during the late months of 2012. Clan elders from the three administrative regions of Gedo and Middle and Lower Juba elected delegates to represent their interests. These clan representatives, originally numbering near 1,000 but eventually dropping to approximately 500, convened in Kismayo to form a consensus on their desired system of governance and to develop an official charter. After an iterative process including public discourse and extensive legal review, a Draft Interim charter of the State Government of Jubaland of Somalia was released in March.

With the issuance of the draft charter under way, a public vote to select the president of Jubaland had been scheduled for February. The vote was delayed repeatedly to try to ensure that all, or at least most of, the representatives could convene at once.

After extensive coordination to ensure all interested stakeholders were included in the process, the vote for the presidency of Jubaland State was eventually rescheduled for May 15.

The SFG welcomed the formation and the presidential elections of Jubaland in an official edict on May 14, and elections took place the following day to select the president of Jubalande.

On May 15 hundreds of regional clan representatives voted Sheik Ahmed Mohamed Islan -- also known as Ahmed Madobe -- to serve as the Jubaland president. Mere hours later a warlord from a rival clan named Barre Hirale declared himself president but his claim to be the winner was quickly discredited. A General Fartag is reported to have been selected to serve as the vice president.

The SFG in Mogadishu recognized the legitimacy of the democratic elections and authenticated Madobe as the victor the same day via a statement issued on the government of Somalia's official webpage.

"We hereby officially welcome the democratically and newly elected President of the Jubaland State His Excellency Ahmed Mohamed Islaan 'Ahmed Madobe'," declared the Office of the President and Prime Minister of the Federal Government in Mogadishu.

The following day the Top National Security Chiefs of Somalia, "Welcome[d] truly and officially how the Jubaland State residents and their traditional elders elected the New President of Jubaland State His Excellency Ahmed Mohamed Islan 'Ahmed Madobe'."

This recognition by the SFG of the validity democratic election process is both important and encouraging given the historically strained relations between Mogadishu and powerbrokers outside of the federal capital.

Somalia and its inhabitants will undoubtedly encounter many roadblocks as it develops its stability, security, and economic independence, but a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single foot step and this successful election was more than one lone step.

(Whitney Grespin has overseen education and security sector capacity building programs on five continents. She is a research fellow with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy as well as a member of Women in International Security and the 2012-13 inaugural class of the Eurasia Foundation's Young Professionals Network.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)


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