The tension between Kenya and Ethiopia over Somalia’s Jubbaland state and its recent election is likely to affect the war against terror in the Horn, experts warn.
With the two countries being frontline states with a sizeable Somalia population and being contributors to the African Union Mission in Somalia – Ethiopia has 4,395 troops in Amisom while Kenya has 3,664 – their seeming failure to co-operate over Jubbaland could give way to a resurgence of the Al-Shabaab terror group.
Amisom is preparing for a final withdrawal in 2021, leaving the Somalia National Army in charge and there are fears that the militants could recapture the liberated areas.
Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Horn of Africa expert, says the emerging rift between Kenya and Ethiopia over the just concluded Jubbaland election could fuel further clan divisions in the state and could give the militants more ground.
Kenya supported the re-election of Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe, an old ally in the fight against Al-Shabaab.
Ethiopia on the other hand allied itself with Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo, who was pushing for the ouster of Madobe in favour of a person who could co-operate with Mogadishu.
There is concern about the Shabaab’s recent campaign of targeting Somali government officials. Late last month, Al-Shabaab militants attacked a hotel in Kismayu, Jubbaland, killing 26 people. Later, a suicide bomber in Mogadishu killed the mayor, Abdirahman Osman, and several others. On August 20, the militants attacked Somali federal government forces military base in Qoryoole, in Lower Shabelle region.
Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, a former minister of Internal Security in the federal government, says the militants have taken advantage of the political wrangles between Mogadishu and Jubbaland and their allies.
“The geopolitical and economic interests at play are making the fight against Al-Shabaab more difficult,” said Mr Mohamed.
While President Farmaajo, with the support of the United States and Qatar, believes that the reconstruction and democratisation of Somalia must start with a strong central government that would force the federal states into submission, Kenya, United Arab Emirates and the Saudi Arabia are for strong regional states as the building blocks for reconstruction.
PACT AND INTERESTS
Jubbaland — which comprises Lower Juba, Middle Juba and Gedo regions — was established in April 2013 as a joint effort between Kenya and Ethiopia, but the recent friction threatens the decades long long-standing mutual co-operation pact between the two countries.
Experts on the affairs of Somalia blame Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for disregarding this co-operation over the issues of Somalia and allying himself with President Farmaajo to create a strong centre.
Matt Bryden, chairman of Sahan Research Organisation, said that Dr Abiy has abandoned the long-standing policy of supporting a decentralised system in Somalia and embraced Mogadishu which has left Kenya standing alone.
Kenya and Ethiopia signed a Defence Pact in the 1960s to check the territorial ambitions of Somalia, back then being advanced through the claiming of parts of Kenya and Ethiopia in what was known as Somalia’s irredentism. The two countries have been playing a leading role on the war against Al-Shabaab.
Analysts say that the emergence of Dr Abiy in the political scene — he came to power in April 2014 — and the shifting geopolitics in the Horn of Africa, has overshadowed Kenya’s position as a leading peacemaker in the region.
This has been compounded by the emerging interests of the Gulf countries and western powers, are interested in influencing politics of the region with the objective of having access to Somalia’s offshore oil and gas deposits.
For instance, Qatar is trying to wrestle influence over Somalia from Turkey. These vested commercial interests are threatening to defeat the war against terror in the region.
According to Dr Abdisamad, the multinational giant western oil companies are threatening Kenya's position, and they are lobbying Somali interests in their own countries putting Kenya in a difficult diplomatic position.