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Jubaland in Jeopardy: The Uneasy Path to State-Building in Somalia
Jubaland in Jeopardy: The Uneasy Path to State-Building in Somalia
What Happens in the Gulf Doesn’t Stay in the Gulf
What Happens in the Gulf Doesn’t Stay in the Gulf
Commentary / Africa

Jubaland in Jeopardy: The Uneasy Path to State-Building in Somalia

On 15 May 2013, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, leader of the Ras Kamboni militia and a close ally of Kenya, was elected Jubaland president by regional clan representatives. Hours later, Barre Hirale, a warlord from a rival clan allied with the Somali Federal Government (SFG), declared himself president. The effort to create a Jubaland state within Somalia will test the limits of federalism in that country, and threatens to touch off clan warfare not only within Somalia but also in its neighbours.

We spoke to Zakaria Yusuf, Somalia Analyst, and Claire Elder, Horn of Africa Research Assistant, to learn more about Jubaland and find out if there is a risk of conflict.

Where and what is Jubaland?

Jubaland is shorthand for Somalia’s diverse, southern-most section, linked by the course of the Juba River. The original Juba provinces covered a much larger area, but in 1975 President Siad Barre carved the then Lower and Upper Juba into Middle and Lower Juba, Gedo, Bay and Bakool regions. Gedo was created as a predominately Marehan-clan area – a clan bailiwick for the president, who was a Marehan. The nascent Jubaland State consists of Gedo, Middle Juba and Lower Juba – all areas adjacent to the Kenya-Somalia border – and does not include Bay and Bakool regions.

Who are the Jubalanders?

Though Jubaland includes Gedo and Middle Juba, control of Lower Juba and Kismayo port is the biggest prize. Kismayo city is cosmopolitan, but the dominant clans are Darod/Harti (long-term “immigrants” from present-day Puntland and Somaliland), Darod/Marehan (more recent immigrants from central Somalia and Gedo) and miscellaneous Hawiye communities. Areas outside Kismayo are predominantly inhabited by Darod/Ogaden clans – also present in neighbouring northeast Kenya and southeast Ethiopia – as well as Jareer (also know as Bantu), some Mirifle (collectively known as Rahanweyn), Awramleh (a small Irir clan) and Galja’al and Sheekhal (often included as Hawiye). The Bajuni (a Swahili speaking group) inhabit the coastal districts near the Kenya border. The city of Jamame – still under the control of the jihadist Al-Shabaab group – is seen as the home of Bimal (Dir), Jareer and mixed Hawiye groups.

Who has ruled Jubaland?

In September 2012, an alliance of pro-SFG militias, Ras Kamboni militiamen and Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), all under command of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), ousted Al-Shabaab from Kismayo. Jamame district and most rural areas are still controlled by the radical group. The current militias are only the latest in a long line of would-be masters of Jubaland since the collapse of the central Somali state in 1991, as can be seen in the chart below:

When did the Jubaland initiative start?

The idea started to gain currency in 2009 as part of a desire among local clan, business and political elites – with support from parts of the Kenyan state, including politicians of Somali descent – to oust Al-Shabaab. It was a good fit with the U.S. government’s “dual track” policy – conceived to support local security and stabilisation in the absence of a strong central state. However, the U.S. and other Western powers were cautious about this particular project. The Transitional Federal Government (replaced by the Somalia Federal Government in August 2012) was lukewarm at best, and Ethiopia was circumspect.

Nevertheless, clan elders from the region met in Kenya from March to April 2011 – the regions in question were still controlled by Al-Shabaab to create what was initially called Azania – swearing in ex-TFG minister Mohamed Abdi “Gandhi” as interim president. Ethiopia and Marehan politicians from Gedo opposed what they perceived as an Ogaden-clan-dominated, Kenya-initiated project.

Following the Kenyan military intervention in October 2011[fn]See our report The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia, Feb 2012.Hide Footnote , further Nairobi-based talks began in May 2012 to broker agreement between the Ogaden, Marehan and Harti as well as many smaller clans. A 32-member technical committee was charged with establishing a Jubaland administration. But the perception of clan dominance was hard to shift since the main signatories at the Jubaland conference – with the exception of one Galja’al – were all from Darod clans. 

How does Jubaland fit with the current Somalia Federal Government?

After Kismayo’s September 2012 capture by Kenyan Defense Forces troops (by that time under AMISOM command) and allied Somali groups – especially Ahmed Madobe’s Ras Kamboni militia – the SFG and the local interim administration disagreed over who should lead the formation of a new regional federal state. Talks reconvened in Kismayo in late February 2013 paid for by Jubaland supporters.

The SFG opposed the talks and Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon declared them unconstitutional. He said they should follow the precedent of SFG-appointed interim administrations elsewhere in the south. However, the local leadership – with support from disgruntled SFG parliamentarians, Puntland (the Harti-Darod homeland) and the regional body, IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) – argued that they should establish a regional state as per the provisional federal constitution.  There is enough ambiguity within the federal constitution for both the SFG and Jubaland to have a case, but each accuses the other of inflexibility.

What are the local and regional interests at play?

Jubaland is a potentially rich region, with good seasonal rainfall, year-round rivers, forests, and lush farm- and range-lands, as well as potential off-shore oil and gas deposits.  The harvesting and export of charcoal has become a particularly lucrative industry, a trade currently banned by UNSC resolution 2036 (2012) which nonetheless is flourishing with the cooperation of AMISOM-allied militias. The domestic stakes of the Jubaland process are high, as clan factions fight over the division of resources.

Ethiopia and Kenya have used the regional organisation IGAD as a forum to support a Jubaland regional state through a “Grand Stabilisation Plan”.  An IGAD “confidence-building mission” is currently visiting Jubaland. Kenya’s interest is strategic and economic: a semi-autonomous Jubaland as a buffer-zone from Al-Shabaab attacks on both its tourism industry and a massive Lamu port development project; secure access to the Kismayo market; and influence over oil and gas deposits in a contested maritime zone. Stability could also facilitate plans to repatriate 500,000 Somali refugees now living in Kenya. Ethiopia’s interest is primarily that an Ogadeni-dominated Jubaland could complicate its struggle against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in Ethiopia’s Somali-inhabited south-east. But Ethiopia also has economic interests, including the possibility of alternative access to the sea.

Is there a risk of conflict?

Clan and inter-regional tensions between Darod clans (particularly Marehan and Ogaden) were already evident during the process of electing Ahmed Madobe (a former Islamist militant) as Jubaland’s president. To counter Ogaden-clan dominance, Marehan will back Barre Hirale’s rival presidency. Smaller clans have also staked their claims to a Jubaland presidency, including Omar Burale Ahmed (a Bimaal/Dir candidate) and Abdi Baaleey Huseen (a Galja’al). Nationally, Jubaland is perceived as a struggle between Hawiye (who influence the SFG) and Darod clan elites (who feel excluded). Al-Shabaab still maintains a significant presence in southern Somalia and is exploiting divisions; for example, tensions between rival militias allowed Al-Shabaab militants to attack a Ras Kamboni military base at Kismayo airport in late April.

Contributors

Analyst, Somalia
Former Consulting Analyst, Horn of Africa
Op-Ed / Africa

What Happens in the Gulf Doesn’t Stay in the Gulf

Originally published in The Atlantic

A year after the Qatar crisis began, it’s having potentially dangerous reverberations in the Horn of Africa.

The Gulf crisis that began last year appears to be living by reverse Las Vegas rules: What happens in the Gulf doesn’t stay in (or even have much impact on) the Gulf. Last June, a Saudi-led coalition cut off relations with and imposed a blockade on Qatar, invoking various and shifting rationales—Qatar was, allegedly, supporting terrorist groups, interfering in Saudi internal affairs, and displaying excessive closeness to Iran. Little progress been made in resolving the dispute, and all parties seem ready to withstand it for the foreseeable future. Qatar of course would much prefer to see its foes lift their blockade. Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, are eager to have their neighbor curb its independent foreign-policy streak. On the whole, though, both sides have learned to live with a dispute that has become part of their habitual scenery.

But reverse Vegas rules means also this: What happens in the Gulf is increasingly having destabilizing and dangerous effects elsewhere. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Somalia.

I witnessed this last month when I landed in its capital, Mogadishu. After decades of civil war, I expected to find a bombed-out, militarized shell of a once great coastal city. Mogadishu is still plagued by violence; last October 2017, 600 people were killed by one of the deadliest truck bombs in history. Still, signs of progress abound: Streetlights function, food stalls overflow with produce, shops burst with merchandise, tuk-tuks weave in and out of traffic, people gather on the capital’s beaches, new buildings are under construction, and old buildings are being restored.

Yet this fragile progress is now under threat from an unlikely source. Rivalries among Gulf powers have spilled into the Horn of Africa.

Since Somalia’s central government collapsed in the early 1990s, civil war has gripped the country for nearly three decades in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. In 2006, al-Shabaab, a jihadist insurgent movement that later became affiliated with al-Qaeda, emerged and occupied swaths of the country, including much of the capital. A famine in 2010 that killed more than a quarter of a million Somalis was made worse by al-Shabaab’s grip on the south-central region of the country. It took until 2011, after the deployment of African Union forces, for al-Shabaab’s gains to be reversed, as African Union and Somali operations pushed the movement out of Mogadishu and began the slow process of stabilizing the country.

True, enormous challenges remained. Reconciling and allocating power and resources among Somalia’s fractious clans, and between Mogadishu and Somalia’s regions, or federal states, has proved an uphill and uneven struggle. So too has building security forces, which are often little more than an assortment of militias whose primary loyalty is to clans as opposed to any formal chain of command. Al-Shabaab proved resilient, often being a better service provider and revenue generator than the graft-ridden government. Overall, though, the general direction of the country appeared positive. The 2017 election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, who enjoyed support from across Somalia’s clans, was further cause for hope.

The Gulf crisis that began last June, however, has brought another layer of complexity and strife. I hardly expected the Middle East to dominate discussions with officials in the Horn of Africa. But in all my meetings, whether with the Somali prime minister, the national planning minister, the president’s national-security adviser, civil-society leaders—or indeed African officials and Western diplomats in the Ethiopian and Kenyan capitals—the overriding theme was how the rivalry between Qatar and other Gulf countries, specifically the United Arab Emirates, would affect Somalia and the Horn of Africa more broadly.

In the wake of the crisis, and reportedly under pressure from Gulf powers to pick sides, President Farmajo declared that he wanted to keep Somalia out of the fray.

In the wake of the crisis, and reportedly under pressure from Gulf powers to pick sides, President Farmajo declared that he wanted to keep Somalia out of the fray. The U.A.E. didn’t buy it. It considered several of Farmajo’s appointments too close to Qatar and thus at odds with his professions of neutrality. In response, the U.A.E. appears to have doubled down on its support not only for competing Somali factions but also for Somalia’s federal states. In turn, Farmajo’s government, angered at what it views as attempts to undermine its authority, has cracked down on rivals, often using their alleged ties to the U.A.E. as pretext.

The Somali government’s confiscation in April of more than $9 million from an Emirati plane at Mogadishu’s airport brought the crisis to a boil. The government cites the cash as evidence of Emirati meddling. The U.A.E. denies the charge and argues the money was destined for Somali forces whose salaries it has long been paying. Regardless, the dispute has had destructive ripple effects. The U.A.E. cut off aid programs and withdrew personnel from the capital. The rift has exacerbated intra-Somali disputes, particularly between the Farmajo government and federal states. It is deepening the Somali state’s dysfunction—arguably the main reason al-Shabaab remains a threat—and risks allowing the group to muster further strength, despite thousands of lives and billions of dollars spent combatting it.

Not all of Somalia’s challenges can be laid at the Gulf’s doorstep. For years, the Gulf monarchies’ aid and investment has been a lifeline for many Somalis. Nor are Somali elites, long adept at navigating foreign clientelism, helpless victims. They often have been as skillful at manipulating foreigners as foreigners have been at manipulating them.

But rivalries among Gulf powers—which are increasingly on display in the fraught jockeying for influence around the Red Sea and in the Horn of Africa—have brought a dangerous new twist to Somalia’s instability.  It’s not too late for all to take a step back: for Mogadishu to adhere to a position of strict neutrality between Qatar and the U.A.E. and to repair its troubled relations with the federal states; for Gulf countries to cease meddling in Somalia’s domestic politics; and for Somalia’s various actors to stop exploiting for their own ends Gulf states’ economic or strategic interest in their country.

None of that would put an end to Somalia’s long-running and tragic conflict. Even without Gulf meddling, efforts to stabilize the country, curtail the threat from al-Shabaab, reconcile clans, and overcome center–periphery tensions still face a hard and long slog. But if richer, more powerful states treat the country as an expendable battleground, and if they and Somali factions pursue a form of zero-sum competition ill-suited to the country’s fractious and multipolar politics, the bloodshed and discord that have long blighted Somalia risk taking an even darker turn.