Kenya could soon find itself on a collision course with Somalia’s newly installed government over reports that Nairobi is influencing the establishment of a local administration in Kismayu, claims the country’s Department of Defence has denied.
(Read: Real test now lies in picking Kismayu leader)
A group of Somali Members of Parliament are planning to table a motion in parliament to expel Kenyan forces from Kismayu, Radio Dalsan reported, adding that the MPs felt the Kenya Defence Forces had failed to deal with insecurity in Kismayu and were also allowing the export of charcoal despite a ban by the United Nations.
However, sources in the Somali government told The EastAfrican that the motion was an emotional reaction by individual MPs who still believed Kenya’s intervention was a mistake and amounted to foreign occupation.
Omar Osman, adviser to former prime minister Abdiwelli Mohammed, said the Speaker and the majority of Somalia’s 275 MPs would not allow the motion to be tabled because they thought Kenya was playing a crucial role in maintaining security in Kismayu.
Secondly, Kenya has good relations with the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, which such a motion could upset.
While talk of Kenya’s intentions to set up a local administration in Jubaland to serve as a buffer zone has been doing the rounds since KDF entered Somalia in October last year, there are now real fears that Nairobi is trying to influence the establishment of the Jubaland administration through the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (Igad).
However, KDF spokesperson Col Cyrus Oguna said Kenya has neither the capacity nor will to impose a leadership on Jubaland, describing a current initiative as an Igad issue: “The group of 35 people that have been meeting in Nairobi under Igad Initiative for Jubaland were recently moved to Kismayu for local ownership. They have been appointed by various clans to come up with a mechanism for local administration,” said Col Oguna.
Kenya is said to be supporting Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, popularly known as Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, the leader of the Ras Kamboni militia, who is considered a warlord. Mr Madobe hails from the Ogaden clan, which also has a strong presence in northeastern Kenya.
The fear is that if Kenya helps the Jubaland administration to put up infrastructure and puts the region on the path to economic prosperity, local leaders may be tempted to disown the Somalia government.
According to the former prime minister’s adviser, any attempts by Kenya to influence the establishment of a Jubaland administration could result in a backlash in the form of clan divisions, which would allow Al Shabaab to infiltrate Kismayu.
But the Ministry of Defence spokesperson Bogita Ongeri dismissed the allegations as propaganda “fuelled by those who don’t want to see a stable Somalia.” He maintained that the duty of setting up an administration in Kismayu lay with the Somali government and Kenya was there to simply keep out Al Shabaab and ensure security.
“As a mission, we understand our mandate in Sector 2 entails ensuring security. We are happy that Somalia now has a Cabinet and parliament that can now decide on how to set up local administration in liberated areas,” said Mr Ongeri.
Prior to the fall of Kismayu, concerns were expressed over whether the interests of troop-providing countries could derail the larger objective of stabilising Somalia.
Sources in the Kenya Defence Forces allege that the talk of Kenya setting up a local administration in Kismayu is due to regional rivalry and disparate interests.
Jubaland, also known as Azania, set up an autonomous administration in 2010. Kenya had expressed interest in helping to develop the new regional administration in order to establish a buffer zone between it and the Islamist insurgency in southern Somalia.
However, neighbouring Ethiopia was opposed to the Jubaland initiative and Kenya’s involvement in it, fearing that it would encourage the Somali-inhabited Ogaden region that is seeking to secede.
Then there is the issue of charcoal.
Kenya is accused of allowing the export of charcoal despite the ban by the UN Security Council.
Kenya says the charcoal is not under its mandate. But Somalis argue that Kenya is controlling the port of Kismayu and it is in a position to stop charcoal exports by enforcing the UN resolution.
There is suspicion that some unscrupulous Kenyan businesspeople are colluding with the KDF leadership to export charcoal to the Middle East.
But Col Oguna said that it is the Amisom force commander in Mogadishu who wrote to the force commander in Sector2 asking for a possible partial lifting of the ban.
The letter was referred to the African Union, which in turn referred the issue to the UN Security Council.
Sources in the Kenya military revealed that Kenya is in a moral dilemma, in that charcoal is the main source of livelihood in the town at the moment and if they want to win the hearts and minds of the Kismayu population, it is prudent to allow them to sell their stockpile of charcoal.