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Diplomatic dilemma as Kenya mulls over Somalia exit strategy
Sunday, May 26, 2013

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Kenya’s exit strategy from Somalia has hit a major diplomatic wall after Mogadishu developed hostility towards the new leadership of a newly formed autonomous region in southern Somalia.

The Standard on Sunday has also learnt the reluctance by Somalia’s federal government under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to warm up to Sheikh Ahmed Madobe’s leadership at Kismayu has created tension between Mogadishu and Nairobi.

This development has complicated Kenya’s plan to exit the war torn-country in what jeopardises an operation that has already gobbled up more than Sh18 billion and lost several lives.

Buffer zone

It is understood that Kenya is counting on the new administration at Kismayu to take charge of the region and form a buffer zone before its troops, alongside the African Union (AU) forces, fade out quietly.

Multiple sources interviewed in Kismayu among them the Kenya Defence Forces, the new President of Somalia’s newest region and locals reckon it will now take much longer than expected to pull KDF out of Somalia. Kenya has been fighting alongside Somali forces since October 2011 in an operation dubbed Linda Nchi, and it was expected to have left the nation after the war against the militant group is completed. People familiar with the operation said Kenya does not want to follow the footsteps of US and Ethiopia who were forced to exit without finding a long-lasting solution.

US in 1992 retreated without success while Ethiopia was forced to pull out in 2009 after three years of heavy casualties.

“Just getting rid of the Al-Shabaab would have been simple, but the new challenges like stabilising Jubaland, handing over the region to a new leadership have made it impossible to tell when we are ever going to leave Somalia,” a captain in charge of one of the troops in Somalia told The Standard on Sunday in an interview at Kismayu. “We have also been delayed by the conferences that have seen the election of new leaders. Details are still sketchy but we are working with a tentative plan of moving to capture the remaining towns, especially in the Gedo region. The truth is we are not leaving this place any time in the near future if events on the ground remain this way,” the captain not authorised to speak to the media said.

But it is Mogadishu’s refusal to participate in the political process, which is now at the final stages in Kismayu that is proving to be the greatest headache for President Madobe’s leadership.

Madobe factor

Sheikh Islam, popularly known as Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, was elected through a process that cost Sh330 million ($3.9million) as the president of the Jubaland State of Somalia. Jubaland comprises of three regions-- Lower Juba, Middle Juba and Gedo and is located towards the south of Somalia. Madobe was elected by a conference 500 elders and local leaders.

After capturing the port city of Kismayu, seen as a major step in the fight against Kismayu, Kenyan troops, which are part of an African force in the country were expected to start an exit plan, and the success of president Madobe is seen as a critical part of this plan. Madobe, however, did not have a timeframe when he thinks his government will be able to run without external military support.

“I see a day when the AMISOM will leave in peace after liberating the whole of Jubaland, but I cannot say when exactly that will be. The timeframe will depend on the progress,” he added.

Madobe, was the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade— a paramilitary group in Kismayu.

General Abdullahi Sheikh Ismail Fartag from Gedi region was elected his Vice President.

President Madobe said Mogadishu has remained on the fence, despite several attempts by the team midwifing the transition process at the South to have them take a lead role in the process.

Eventual elections

Mogadishu argues that the process that led to the election of Madobe was unconstitutional. It is also understood that Mogadishu feels that it was left out of the process. The federal government also says that the process was dominated by one clan and that it would never assist in the defeat of Al-Shabaab. It is also understood that Somalia’s federal government is opposed to the new administration at Kismayu on grounds that it was formed too early.

“Our allegiance is to the federal government of Somalia and all we are asking is to be treated the same way as other states in Somalia,” President Madobe said.

The transition committee has dismissed Mogadishu’s stand on grounds that the process was people driven and Mogadishu had been invited severally to be part of the process.

“This process has taken us four years and it cannot be said to be rushed. We do not understand the hostility from federal government. People of Jubaland have resolved to pursue their intentions however we remain loyal to the federal government and have no intension whatsoever to secede,” Mr Abdigani Jama, the chair of the technical committee for the Jubaland Conference said.

Jama also maintained that the process was in line with Somalia’s constitution.

“None of this process is unconstitutional. We called the central government to take up the chairmanship position to lead the process, but it has not taken it up. We have also said that we owe our allegiance to the federal government under the leadership of President Hassan Mohamud,” Mr Jama told The Standard on Sunday in an interview in Kismayu.

The reluctance by Mogadishu to recognise the new leadership at Kismayu is threatening to widen the rift and mistrust between the federal government and Madobe’s local government.

Giving out cash

It has also emerged that Mogadishu could be dishing out money to elders in Kismayu, with a view to weaken the support that Madobe has on the ground.

“We have seen the delegation from Mogadishu here in Kismayu at a local hotel call out individuals aside. Talking to them, we have established that some are being given some money. People are very poor here and some money can easily turn one clan against the other,” the source said.

Madobe maintains that his government will proceed with the remaining bit of stabilising Somalia under the realisation that the troops in the country will not be staying in Somalia forever.

“The delegates are currently in the process of electing 65 members of parliament who will be drawn from all the clans here in Jubaland. We will then appoint a cabinet to start work. Our first assignment is to liberate the remaining area of Jubaland from the Al-shabaab,” President Madobe said.  “We also want to be able to put in place the mechanism that will provide for the realization of one man one vote, deal with security, education, reconciliation and rehabilitation issues,” Mr Madobe said.

But it is not just the central government that is opposed to the new administration in Kismayu.

Warlord’s decree

Last week, a warlord in Jubaland declared himself “president” of the region, shortly after the election of Madobe to the post.

Mr Barre Hirale, a former Somali defence minister and warlord who comes from a rival clan, declared himself as president at separate conference. However, Mr Madobe dismissed this development arguing that everyone was aware of the process that saw him elected as president and any other person is an imposter.

However, the move by Somalia’s other state, Puntland, to congratulate the new leadership at Kismayu has been seen as a major boost to president Madobe’s reign.

 “Puntland congratulates the people of Jubaland State and the new President-elect on organising a community-led consultative conference, adopting a new State Charter, and electing a new President today,” a statement from Office of the President of Puntland said Wednesday.

Puntland said the formation of Jubaland State was fully in accordance with the Provisional Federal Constitution (PFC) of Somalia.

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