The outcome of presidential elections in Jubaland in three weeks could influence the ongoing war against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
Diplomatic sources confided in The Standard that Kenya is rooting for the re-election of incumbent President Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Islam, popularly known as ‘Madobe’, ahead of the August 24 polls.
“These elections are very crucial. The stability of the region against the insurgence of Al-Shabaab would largely be influenced depending on how the elections go. I can tell you that Kenya, without doubt, has huge stakes,” said a diplomat based at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who sought anonymity.
The election is also seen as a litmus test for the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) in Jubaland since the capture of Kismayu from Al-Shabaab in 2012 by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).
Jubaland is seen as a strategic partner for Kenya in its ongoing fight with the terrorist group.
Madobe faces eight other opponents in the historic presidential contest. They are Anab Mohamed Dahir, Mohamed Abdulle Magan, Mohamed Omar Gedi, Ahmed Rabi, Mohamoud Mohamed Omar, Ahmed Abdi Abdi, Abdi Hiis Udan and Abdirahman Omar Osman, all who have been critical of Madobe’s administration.
In seeking re-election, Madobe has promised to pursue Al-Shabaab militants and end radicalisation of the youth.
“We seek to continue building on the progress we have made as a region for the last seven years. I believe the people of Jubaland will once more entrust me with the responsibility to lead them,” said Madobe.
Mohamed Osman, a politician based in Jubaland, said, “He is sincere in the war against extremist group and he fully understands the operations of Al-Shabaab, that is why Jubaland is enjoying relatively calm unlike Mogadishu where there are explosions almost daily.”
Madobe, the former leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade who supported the KDF as they chased Al-Shabaab militants from Kismayu in 2012, is said to be a safe pair of hands for Jubaland.
The autonomous region that shares a border with Kenya has been under Madobe’s leadership since 2013.
President Kenyatta’s administration, however, is said to be walking a tightrope to balance the political interests of the Republic of Somalia and Jubaland.
“It is obvious that the Federal Republic of Somalia is opposed to the re-election of Madobe. Kenya has been supporting Madobe for a long time and considers him a key partner in the war against Al-Shabaab. That actually puts President Uhuru’s government in a tight corner,” said Omar Khalif Hassan, a diplomacy expert aware of Jubaland politics.
With the polls drawing closer, campaigns have entered the homestretch with candidates going all out in their search for votes and cross-regional support.
On Saturday, Madobe, received a major boost after elders from his populous Ogaden clan backed his bid for a second term in office. This is a big deal considering the weight the word of the elders carries.
“It’s indeed true that President Madobe alias ‘Blackie’ has been endorsed to run again. This is a major step in this elections and we expect him to win this seat. As you know, elders’ ratification is almost an automatic win at the ballot,” said Senator Ilyas Ali Hassan, a close confidant of Madobe and member of the SFP (Upper House).
It is not an election with huge premium for Kenya and Somalia alone as some gulf nations are also said to be sponsoring candidates to take on Madobe.
Political analysts observed that it was not beyond these interested parties to resort to dirty tricks.
“They are financing contestants in order to install their favourite candidate against the wishes of the populace. This is so they can have influence to help them end Kenyan influence in Jubaland and the larger Somalia,” said Guled Omar Osman, an analyst who is familiar with Jubaland politics.
The election is not only a test for Kenya but Somalia, Ethiopia and the US, whose presence in Somalia has increased in recent days.
The recent terror attack where 26 people, including a prominent journalist and several foreigners, were killed has exposed the strenuous relationship between Kismayo and Mogadishu.
This is after Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo was quoted in the media questioning why Al-Shabaab militants were targeting their own (Somalis) instead of other countries.
Last week, the Mogadishu-backed candidates were barred from the poll after they failed to satisfy constitutional requirements.
The electoral commission locked them out after they failed to meet certain criteria despite the electoral agency having extended registration for presidential candidates by four more days from July 22 to July 26.
Transport and Aviation minister Mohamed Abdullahi Salad, considered to be Farmaajo’s choice, was locked out the race after he failed to register.
Farmaajo then persuaded members of his Marehan clan not to vie for the presidency and instead support the ‘chosen’ candidates. The Marehan and Ogaden are part of the Darod clan, with the Ogaden the majority in Jubaland.
Separately, supporters of Madobe who live in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate described him as a ‘pillar of peace’ in the region.
“Those opposing Madobe want to jeopardise the fragile peace in a region torn apart by conflict for over three decades,” said Yusuf Abdi.
Mr Abdi, who was accompanied by more than 200 Madobe supporters at a Nairobi hotel, said the president had helped Kenya in the fight against Al-Shabaab.