By: Malkhadir M Muhumed
Analysts are concerned about tension between Kenya and Somalia over the handling of peace efforts in southern parts of the war-torn country.
This follows a diplomatic spat over three days of fighting in the port city of Kismayu. The Somalia government wrote to the African Union complaining about an alleged lull in the fight against Al-Shabaab militants in the south sector controlled by AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom) troops.
They have blamed this alleged laxity on renewed fighting between militia and forces allied to Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe.
They also accuse Kenya of obstructing efforts to bring troops in the region under a national command, taking particular exception to the arrest of a senior commander by Kenyan forces, which they say led to the fighting.
Jubaland officials have described the commander, Col Abass Ibrahim Gurey, who was allegedly moved to Dhobley by Kenya Defence Forces ( KDF), as a warlord.
Analysts now say Kenya’s relationship with Somalia is bound to worsen in coming months over divergent interests in Jubaland state. A warlord ejected from Kismayu by Madobe’s troops has vowed to recapture the port city and kick out KDF with the help of the Mogadishu-based government and Al-Shabaab militants.
“Strained relations between Mogadishu and Nairobi are bad for everyone in the region,” said Mr David Shinn, an adjunct professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. “It can increase the prospect for conflict along the border, refugee flows and displaced people on both sides.”
At the centre of the controversy is Mogadishu’s objection to Jubaland, whose leaders are said to be reportedly backed by Kenya. Nairobi has been pushing for a buffer zone to prevent infiltration of Al-Qaeda linked militants from crossing over to Kenya.
Locals in south Somalia argue that their desire to have a regional administration is provided for in the country’s federal constitution, and Kenya’s help is most welcome.
“Kenya has its old allies in the area, something Mogadishu sees as violating the principle of sovereignty,” said Mr Stig Jarle Hansen, who teaches at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences and specialises in the Horn of Africa, war economy and security.
What seemed just a few months ago as a mere conflict between the local Jubaland administration and clan militia backed by warlords is now threatening to blow up into a diplomatic row that can easily explode to a military confrontation.
“The solution is to accept the available structures in Kismayu and amend it rather than starting from scratch,” said Hansen.
“However, a neutral mediator is needed, and there are none available — perhaps a country Switzerland or South Africa could be of help.”
The diplomatic row escalated after the ejection of warlord Barre Aadan Shire (Hiiraale) from Kismayu, raising doubts among analysts about the intention of Mogadishu’s move in Kismayu. Jubaland officials accuse Mogadishu of backing Hiiraale and supporting clan militias in Kismayu to cause recent clashes.
“Absolutely not the case,” said Abdirahman Omar Osman, senior advisor and spokesman to the presidency. “We’ve never supported any group. We have been always calling for immediate cessation of hostilities. We… believe reconciliation and dialogue are the best ways to solve all issues in Somalia.”