• Jubaland is a strategic partner for Kenya in the ongoing anti-Shabaab onslaught
• The upcoming polls are billed as a contest pitting long-term goals like development, reconciliation and institution building in the Somali federal state of Jubaland.
Kenya's fight against the al Shabaab militants in Somalia faces a major test as one of her key regional allies, Jubaland goes into presidential polls in three weeks’ time.
Jubaland is a strategic partner for Kenya in the ongoing anti-Shabaab onslaught, meaning President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has huge stakes in the upcoming elections.
Yesterday, diplomatic sources told the Star that Kenya is rooting for the re-election of current President Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Islam popularly known as Madobe ahead of the August 24 polls.
Madobe faces eight other opponents in the historic presidential contest.
They include Mohamed Abdulle Magan, Mohamed Omar Gedi, Anab Mohamed Dahir, Abdi Hiis Udan, Mohamoud Mohamed Omar, Ahmed Abdi Abdi and Abdirahman Ahmed Rabi all who have been critical to Madobe’s administration.
Madobe has been Kenya’s ally in the war against al Shabaab militants and cooperated with the Kenya Defence Forces during the takeover of the strategic city of Kismayu.
Jubaland, the region in Somalia closest to the border with Kenya, has been under Madobe since 2013.
“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,” a diplomat based at Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The upcoming polls are billed as a contest pitting long-term goals like development, reconciliation and institution-building in the Somali Federal State of Jubaland.
However, Uhuru’s administration is walking a tightrope to balance the political scales as the Republic of Somalia, another ally, is keen to ramp up its influence in the Jubaland elections.
Omar Khalif Hassan, a diplomacy expert aware of Jubaland politics said that 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,” Hassan said.
Three weeks to the polls, campaigns have entered the homestretch in Jubaland as candidates go full blast to seek for votes and cross-regional support.
On Saturday, Madobe, received a major boost in his re-election campaign after elders from his populous Ogaden clan declared their support for his second term.
Somali communities take elders’ words seriously and with the endorsement, it seems a done deal for Madobe.
“It’s indeed true that President Madobe has been endorsed to run again. As you know, elders ratification is almost an automatic win at the ballot,” Senator Ilyas Ali Hassan, a close confidant of Madobe and Member of the SFP (Upper House) told People daily.
As the elections hit fever pitch, candidates have turned to political sabotage, character assassination, distortion of campaign slogans, and negative publicity for a winning.
Some sponsored hateful advertisements and fabrication of campaign materials have also been heightened as rivals push for votes.
Some of the negative campaigns target the incumbent and other candidates.
Last week, leaflets were circulated purporting that Madobe had lost favour with his populous Ogaden clan and as a result, they would not be backing his re-election.
The leaflets and pockets of violence witnessed in the relatively calm town of Kismayu and other parts of Jubaland have been blamed on Mogadishu.
However, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo has previously denied any links.
It is not an election with a huge premium for Kenya and Somalia alone as some of the gulf nations are also said to be sponsoring candidates to take on Madobe.
In the last week, social media platforms have turned into streams of intensified misinformation, propaganda, a trend that is now worrying both locals, analysts and international communities.
Political analysts have observed that some of the dirty tricks are either a creation of the contestants themselves or their financial supporters.
“They are financing contestants in order to install their favourable candidate against the wishes of the populace so that they have influence in Jubaland to help them off Kenyan influence in Jubaland and the larger Somali,” Guled Omar Osman, an analyst said.
However, analysts say the election is not a test for not only Kenya but also Somalia, Ethiopia as well as Americans whose presence in Somalia has relatively increased in recent days.
The recent terror attack where at least 26 people, including a prominent journalist and several foreigners, were killed has exposed the strenuous relationship between Kismayo and Mogadishu.
Somali President Farmaajo was quoted in sections of the media questioning why al Shabaab militants were targeting their own.
President Farmaajo is allegedly opposed to the re-election of Madobe and has instead sponsored several candidates from Madobe’s Ogaden clan to run against him.
However, the Mogadishu-backed candidates were last week barred from contesting after they failed to satisfy the requirements of the Constitution.
The electoral commission locked them for failing to meet the presidential threshold despite the electoral agency having extended registration for candidates from July 22 to 26.
Minister for Transport and Aviation Mohamed Abdullahi Salad, considered as Farmajo’ choice, was locked out the race after he failed to register to participate.
Following the developments, Farmaajo persuaded members of his Marehan clan, not to vie for the presidency but instead support “the chosen candidates”.
Marehan and Ogaden are part of the Darod clan. But majority clan in Jubaland is Ogaden.
Among the campaign pledges by the incumbent are a renewed fight to eradicate al Shabaab, weeding out radicalism and peace for the Jubaland people, Somalia and neighbouring countries.
“We seek to continue building on the progress we have made as a region for the last seven years, and I believe the people of Jubaland will once more entrust me with the responsibility to lead them,” Madobe told the Star on Sunday.
However, local analysts have dismissed Farmaajo’s political manoeuvres terming then inconsequential.
“He is sincere in the war against the extremist group and he fully understands the operations of al Shabaab, that is why Jubaland relatively calm, unlike Mogadishu where there are almost daily explosions,” Mohamed Osman, a Jubaland politician said.
The gulf nations have also been drawn to the election controversy that is threatening to split relations between Kismayu and Mogadishu.
Madobe, the former leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade that joined with the Kenya Defence Forces to weed out the al Shabaab militants out of Kismayu in 2012 is said to be a safe pair of hands for Jubaland.
“Security forces in Mogadishu work with Alshabaab,” he alleged.
As per the Constitution, presidential aspirants should be from Somali origin and should be married to a Somali woman or man.
The domestic stakes for the Jubaland election process are high, as clan factions fight over the key position.
Nevertheless, the elections will be a litmus test for the African Union Mission in Somalia's impact in Jubaland.
(edited by O. Owino)