Understanding Jubbaland elections; what’s at stake?

Wednesday August 07 2019

A man casts his ballot on November 16, 2016, in Somalia. Jubbaland will hold elections on August 21,2019. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP


Somalia’s federal state Jubbaland will hold elections on August 21. Not everyone will vote, but it appears the poll could affect both Somalis and neighbouring countries.

Stretching from Gedo in the south to the Indian Ocean and bordering the entire Kenyan frontier with Somalia, Jubbaland is politically seen as Kenya’s buffer against Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

But the ties of Jubbaland to Kenya and Ethiopia—through clan connections—means the stakes are higher for everyone. So what is in it?

  • Who is the current leader?

A former warlord, Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe also known as ‘Blackie’, was the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, a local militia group opposed to al-Shabaab.

Supported by the Kenya Defence Forces, they ousted Shabaab from Kismayu in September 2012.


Madobe then became interim President in the two years that followed as clans reached reconciliation agreements. In 2015, he was elected President.

Supported by Kenyan and Ethiopian forces, this time as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), Madobe was able to settle in, gripping power and securing most of Kismayu from frequent militia attacks.

Having run a militarist regime in an area vulnerable to al-Shabaab, his popularity lay on the campaign to eliminate extremists. With military ties to Kenya and running the resource basket, he remains the candidate to beat.

  • Who are his rivals?

Madobe faces opposition from Abdinasir Seraar, a former Ras Kamboni Brigade comrade. Seraar now runs a separate paramilitary group claiming to be opposed to Shabaab.

He is seen as Madobe’s strongest opponent, given his ability to rally other opponents in one voice against perceived bias in electoral rules, as well as providing parallel security for politicians.

Other candidates include former Aviation and Transport minister Mohamed Omar and former Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) employee Mohamed Dahir Marsheye.

Omar has been rumoured to be the favourite candidate for Somalia’s Federal Government as it seeks to take control of federal states.

The local electoral commission had indicated that more candidates had applied but need to pass the stringent electoral rules for their names to be put in the roll. The list is yet to be published.

  • The voting process

For most elections in Somalia, there is a special college of elders, selected from the local clans. The elders—chosen by the electoral commission—select three candidates for every parliamentary seat.

The names are then forwarded to the electoral agency which picks one per slot from each three until the 75 MP slots are filled.

The selection follows the clan balancing formula - 4:5 – four main clans and a coalition of smaller ones.

The Ogaden, Madobe’s clan, Marehan (President Mohammed Farmaajo’s clan), Hawiye and Diir are main clans in Jubbaland. Others are smaller bantu speaking tribes.

But opponents of this system have claimed that the incumbent wields so much power that he can influence which elders are chosen on the council.

A local group, the Union of Presidential Candidates for Change, has demanded that only registered elders be selected to select only one MP per slot. The protest, though, ran into headwinds last week after Madobe’s administration insisted that the vote will run as federal law requires.

  • Underlying forces influencing the poll

Just as in the entire country, clan politics have greater influence on political positions. During elections, clan elders are the ultimate kingmakers.

Madobe, an Ogadeni strongman, recently had public support from clan elders from as far as Garissa County in eastern Kenya. Even though they don’t have a vote in Jubbaland, Kenyan elders are good for international reputation and branding.

Madobe enjoys significant support from other clans as has previously distributed political appointments and resources fairly.

He has also urged the leaders of other armed groups to quit guerilla warfare and join his fold.

With powers in the hands of elders though, it has also created friction with the Federal Government. For example, President Farmaajo opposed the listing of the elders, arguing most of them had not been registered.

The move by Mogadishu led Madobe’s administration to ‘suspend’ cooperation with Farmaajo’s government. Technically, that would mean Jubbaland won’t discuss the ongoing constitutional review issues key for the universal suffrage in 2021.

Legally, Jubbaland may pass local laws to conduct elections, even though they must be based on the provisional federal constitution.

Jubbaland, Puntland and Somaliland (which demands total independence) have been vocal in demanding more autonomy from Mogadishu.

On the other hand, al-Shabaab has also sought a stake in the polls, ordering elders to register with them and dress in a specified code. Those defying the ‘directive’ have been targeted.

That has created an overall security dilemma. With the resurgence of Shabaab attacks in Kismayu, it means the Jubbaland poll is largely dependent on African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces buttressing local security. In the Jubbaland area, Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers are deployed.

Some gulf countries are said to have taken opposing sides in the polls, signifying the importance of the election to the region.

  • Common ground?

After an initial tussle, Mogadishu and Jubbaland agreed on the polls to go on. Yet they have still haggled on who conducts it.

But they agree that the menace of al-Shabaab needs to be ended and have called on Amisom to support operations which include gradual elevation of the Somali National Army to take over defence duties.

Both sides have agreed on the economic future of Jubbaland. For example, in April 2018, Jubbaland, Mogadishu and the European Union launched the Inclusive Local Economic Development Programme meant to prepare the area for investments. Another programme sponsored by ADESO hoped to shield locals from effects of conflict and famine.