States vs central govt: Why the world was glued to Jubbaland election

Sunday August 25 2019

Jubbaland President Ahmed Islam 'Madobe'.

Sheikh Ahmed Islam better known as “Ahmed Madobe”, speaks in Kismayo on August 22, 2019 after his re-election as President of Jubaland, a semi-autonomous state of Somalia. PHOTO | ABDIRAZAK HUSSEIN FARAH | AFP 

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The re-election of Jubbaland's President Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe is a major setback for President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo’s efforts to gain control over Somalia's federal states and establish a strong central government.

Sheikh Madobe won a second term by garnering 56 of the 74 votes cast by members of parliament, despite the strong opposition from Mogadishu, backed by Ethiopia.

This means that out of the five regional states that “suspended co-operation” with Mogadishu in September 2018, President Farmaajo has only regained Southwest and Hirshabelle. Jubbaland, Galmudug and Puntland remain out of his reach, at least for now.


According to the leader of Wadajir Party, Abdirahman Warsame, the announcement by Mogadishu rejecting the outcome of Madobe's re-election is a testimony that President Farmaajo was trying to influence the elections to install somebody who could co-operate with the centre.

Abdallah Ahmed Ibrahim, one of the aspirants who was barred from contesting, said Mogadishu was trying to arrogate itself powers that it does not have, because the constitution says that the elections be organised and conducted by the federal states without interference from the centre. Mr Ibrahim now says they are reaching out to Sheikh Madobe for talks to form a unity government that will incorporate some of his opponents.


“We are for the unity of Jubbaland and we want dialogue that is not controlled by any foreign forces to bring about reconciliation and liberate areas controlled by Al-Shabaab,” said Mr Ibrahim.

According to Elmi Afyare, a professor of international relations at Qatar University, the Jubbaland election was a case study of the ongoing debate on whether to have a centralised and federal system and the continued mistrust between the states and the centre.


The Jubbaland elections attracted a lot of regional and international interest, including from the United Nations, the US and Qatar. The United Nations Special Representative for Somalia, James Swan personally met with Sheikh Madobe for talks on an inclusive election, which made Jubbaland Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (JIBEC) extend registration time by 72 hours.

Prof Hassan Keynan, a retired senior UN official who worked in South Asia, Africa and Europe, said that the UN has often failed to uphold the cardinal principles of neutrality and consensus in Somalia. Kenya which supported Sheikh Madobe protested against the interference by the UN and Ethiopia, writing to the UN Under-Secretary of Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, accusing Mr Swan of ignoring Nairobi’s role in Amisom.

Kenya was pushing for an ally who would ensure that Jubbaland continues to act as buffer zone against Al-Shabaab. Dr Hassan Khannenje, director of the Horn Institute said that the Jubbaland election was important to Kenya because of three factors: It has a bearing on Somalia’s stability at large and the 2021 presidential election, and will impact the Kenya-Somalia relations after the resolution of the maritime boundary dispute.