Somalia: The Show-Down in Jubbaland Deadlocks- Analysis


By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

Somalilandsun – Somalia carries its political past with it into the present. Its pre-colonial period in which a single ethnic group was dispersed into sub-clans by a nomadic-pastoralist economy.

The colonial period in which Somalia became subject to the overweening influence of foreign powers. The early post-independence democracy gutted by clan-based factionalism and corruption.

The dictatorship of Siad Barre, which, as he lost power, degenerated into attempted clan domination. The post-Barre statelessness that froze factionalism territorially as Somalia fragmented into mini-states, autonomous regions , makeshift authorities, and warlordism dotted by unsuccessful attempt to achieve a national political community. The Islamic Courts revolution as an effort to unify south-central Somalia through an Islamic political formula in the light of the failure of clan to serve as a social basis for political organization. The Ethiopian occupation that killed the Courts and set in motion a revolutionary Salafist-jihadist opposition and efforts by the Western great powers to counter it by engineering a transition to a permanent anti-Islamist government based on clan representation. All leading to the present, in which a new transitional government that is deemed “permanent” by the “international community” is one domestic actor among competitors.

A decentralized society, domination by external powers, factionalism and corruption, the state as a tool of clan domination, hyper-fragmentation of the polity, religion as an alternative formula to clan, the humiliation of occupation and the strength of resistance to it, stage-managed-from-the-outside provisional national political structures based on clan — Somalia carries all of those into the present , the legacy of each stage layered on the last.

At present, a new period of Somalia’s political history has opened centering on what — if any — form(s) of state(s) the territories of post-independence Somalia will have. It could be a league of independent states with a common foreign policy and military, a confederation of largely autonomous authorities, a federation in which the national government is stronger than its sub-units, or a decentralized or centralized unitary state. In practice, the current alternatives are confederation (decentralized federalism) and centralized federalism. That is the great political drama being enacted in Somalia today, and its stage is the deep south of the territories of post-independence Somalia: the regions (inherited from Siad Barre) of Gedo, Middle Jubba, and Lower Jubba. The actors are the familiar repertory troupe of factions and external actors playing out the latest episode of a tragi-comedy.

The Last Month in the Deep South: An Overview

The form of political organization to be adopted by the deep southern regions will determine the state-form that the territories of post-independence Somalia will have, if they achieve one, and whether or not Somaliland is part of the resulting entity.

During the past month, the advocates of decentralized federalism advanced by instituting a Jubbaland state based on a process undertaken independently of the Somali Federal Government (S.F.G.); and the S.F.G. responded by rejecting the Jubbaland initiative, setting up an interim administration loyal to it in the Gedo region, and launching an effort to broker the conflict between the Jubbaland factions and factions (which the S.F.G. has supported) that feel marginalized by the Jubbaland regime.

At present, the two sides are at a deadlock in their show-down, clan politics have swept away all other interests, and corrosive fragmentation has begun to set in. The big “donor”-powers appear to be on the sidelines, and the major regional powers (most notably, Kenya) are intervening to serve their interests and preserve and expand their advantages over Somalia. There is no third party to serve as an honest broker.

The deep south has been effectively chopped up into separate and adversarial “authorities” — not only is there no regional government in the deep south; there are competing “governments.” In the terms of Somali political analyst Ahmed Egal, the processes of political fission are prevailing over those of political fusion, and one can add that fragmentation is hardening into political structures; the configuration bears close resemblance to what pertained in the period preceding the Courts revolution, including the presence of warlords and the exploitation of political weakness by external actors. The Western “donor”-powers are doing nothing to try to stop the descent into fragmented deadlock, preferring to hedge their bets by continuing to pursue their “dual-track” politcy of equivocating between the forms of centralized and decentralized federalism, as the trenchant Somali political analyst Abukar Arman has pointed out. That is despite their professed support of the S.F.G. The “donor”-powers are unwilling to challenge Kenya, which supports decentralized federalism for its own interest. As a result, the “donor”-powers and the regional powers have ended up reinforcing the domestic deadlock.

The Show-Down Deadlocks

The show-down between the coalition of forces in favor of the Jubbaland initiative and the coalition opposing it, led by the S.F.G. and its allies in Gedo, was approaching its second phase of direct confrontation between the adversaries by the end of April. A closed source reported that the conflict had evolved to a clan-based struggle with one side mainly Ogaden-Darod and Majertein-Darod (pro-Jubbaland) and the other mainly Marehan-Darod and non-Darod clans (anti-Jubbaland), although there were members of each of the clans on both sides. The source further reported that the S.F.G. had made an agreement with Barre Hiralie, the powerful (former) Marehan warlord, to have him unify the Marehan opposition to Jubbaland, possibly to gain more influence for the Marehan in the conference moving to establish a Jubbaland state. The source added that the Marehan representatives at the conference were already getting concessions from the other large Darod sub-clans.

On April 24, RBC Radio reported that the organizing committee for the Jubbaland conference had announced that the elders at the conference representing the deep-southern clans would choose a 550-member committee to elect a president and parliament for Jubbaland within two weeks. On the same day, Shabelle Media quoted an elder, Istin Hassan Bass, stating that his delegation had left the conference, as, he said, other groups had don previously, because the direction of the conference was coming from “unknown sources.” Shabelle Media also reported that the conference was stalemated.

On April 25, Barre Hirale arrived in Kismayo from Mogadishu, announcing that he was there to oppose the Jubbaland initiative and would meet with clan elders to be “part of the solution” to the political problems in the deep south. On the same day, Voice of America quoted politician Hassan Samatar as saying that sub-clans representation at the Jubbaland conference was “unbalanced,” with some sub-clans represented by ten elders and others by two.

Reflecting the reports of disputes at the conference, RBC reported on April 28 that former prime minister of the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which preceded the S.F.G., Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, warned candidates competing for the presidency of Jubbaland to compromise with one another on pain of the S.F.G. taking over the deep south.

On May 1, Shabelle reported that the commander of S.F.G. military forces in the deep-southern regions, General Abbas Mohamed Diriye, announced that S.F.G. troops were is Kismayo. He requested cooperation from the military forces of the Raskamboni Movement (R.K.M), which are dominant in the city and are controlled by Sh. Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Madobe), the leader of the Jubbaland initiative, an Ogaden-Darod and a (former ) Islamist warlord.

On May 2, speaking before the federal parliament, the S.F.G.’s president, Hassan Sh. Mohamoud, repeated his opposition to the Jubbaland initiative, stating that the S.F.G. would facilitate the formation of an “equally representative” administration for the deep-southern regions when the Islamist-jihadist Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (H.S. M.) had been defeated in those regions.

The leadership of the Jubbaland conference quickly responded to Hassan, issuing a statement on May 4 that the S.F.G.’s president had violated the Provisional Federal Constitution (P.F.C.) by interfering with the Jubbaland conference and trying to undermine the P.F.C.’s commitment to a federal state-form for Somalia. On the same day, the regional organization composed of Horn of Africa states and dominated by Ethiopia and Kenya, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.), announced that it would send a “confidence-building mission” to Kismayo. The Mareeg website quoted elder Mohamed Ismail as calling on the S.F.G. to “eradicate the Raskamboni criminals.”

On May 13, a flight carrying a delegation led by former member of the Transitional Federal Parliament, Mohamed Amin Abdullahi, was forced to return to Mogadishu from the Kismayo airport, although the flight had been cleared by the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Amin said that the Kenyan Defense Force (K.D.F.), which was folded into AMISOM after Kenya occupied the Lower Jubba region in 2011, was behind the flight being turned back. Amin expressed his opposition to the Jubbaland conference, and Garoweonline reported rumors that S.F.G. President Hassan had appointed Amin to be the interim governor of Lower Jubba. Shabelle reported on local opposition by elders and ex-T.F.G. officials to Kenyan “interference.”

On May 15, S.F.G. Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon appointed a Joint Reconciliation Committee, chaired by Deputy Interior Minister Abdi Jama Ahmed (Oday) and composed of S.F.G. officials and parliamentarians, to attempt to resolve the conflict in the deep south. Garoweonline reported that a flight carrying Amin and his delegation was given clearance to land in Kismayo, but that the passengers were jailed by local officials when they refused to return to Mogadishu.

Also on May 15, the Jubbaland conference elected Ahmed Madobe as president of the new presumptive regional state by a vote of 485-10-5 after his competitors, Mohamed Nur and Hilowle Adan Mohamed dropped out. A closed source reported that Madobe’s opponents had left the Jubbaland convention to greet Amin’s delegation at Kismayo’s airport. In short order, Barre Hirale announced that he had been named president of the deep southern regions by a conference of elders, which, he said, “belonged to the peop,” whereas the Jubbaland convention was “organized and pushed by Kenya.” (On May 23, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper quoted a source as saying that Hirale had called Marehan elders to his residence and told them to name him president, which they did.) Madobe warned that if there was “fighting,” the S.F.G. would be to blame, reflecting widespread belief at the Jubbaland conference that Hirale’s move was inspired by S.F.G. President Hassan. After Hirale’s announcement, two other presumptive “presidents” stepped forward.

By mid-May, the show-down in Jubbaland had deadlocked, a result, of course, that neither side had desired, yet that was dictated by the power distribution in the deep-southern regions. The preceding account of the movement of the show-down to deadlock was purposely pared down to a chronology of news bits and bites with minimum commentary and analysis in order to give the reader a sense of the day-to-day movement of factional positions, as each actor pursued its own agenda. The narrative was likened to a tragi-comedy, which might seem to be harsh, unfeeling or facetious; yet what is one to call the behavior of actors who are so self-involved and distrustful that they end up defeating themselves and cannot lift their heads high enough to see that they hold the future of Somalia’s political organization in their hands? For genuine tragedy, some nobility is required.

Jubbaland is now a “fact;” neither the S.F.G. nor dissident Marehan nor minority clans nor anti-Jubbaland Ogaden and Majertein was able to stop it. Yet how far does Jubbaland’s writ run? Similarly the pro-S.F.G. Gedo administration is a “fact” and so are Barre Hirale’s forces; the Jubbaland initiative could not stop them. Yet how far does their writ run? The weakness of the S.F.G. is glaringly obvious. The indifference of the “international community” (Western “donor”-powers) is equally so. Is it back to the pre-Courts period?

With the deadlock in place, the S.F.G. maneuvered to take advantage of it by appearing to stand above the conflict. RBC reported that Prime Minister Shirdon’s office issued a statement that the government could not recognize two presidents in the deep-southern regions, and that it had warned four months ago about the destructive consequences of “self-declared” presidencies. S.F.G. Interior Minister Abdikarin Hussein Guled called on AMISOM and S.F.G. military forces to remain neutral in the political dispute, warned that the conflict could open the way to the resurgence of H.S.M., and insisted that the presidential “elections” violated the provisional constitution.

The Puntland regional state, which advocates decentralized federalism and has consistently supported the Jubbaland initiative, countered the S.F.G. by congratulating the Jubbaland conference for having elected a president in accordance with the P.F.C., calling for other south-central regions to follow the Jubbaland example, and added that “the spoilers” had “failed again.”

The Sabahi news service quoted elder Osman Ibrahim Shabgani as calling on the S.F.G. to intervene to resolve the conflict and claiming that several prospective delegates to the Jubbaland convention had been denied entry into Kismayo. Former spokesman for the Jubbaland convention, Abdinasir Serar, accused the S.F.G. of “fomenting communal violence.” Shabelle reported that forces loyal to Madobe and Hirale were facing off in Kismayo, and that Kenyan-AMISOM troops were “confused” about how to respond, since they did not have close relations with the S.F.G. Members of the federal parliament from the deep-southern regions were reported to be split, with some supporting the Jubbaland state and backing a group seeking a vote of confidence on Shirdon, and others opposing the Jubbaland project and urging the S.F.G. to intervene in Lower Jubba. On May 17, Garoweonline reported that Madobe had named General Abdullahi Ismail Fartag, from the Gedo region, as his vice president.

On the same day, the “confidence-building mission” from I.G.A.D. arrived in Mogadishu and met with Shirdon who expressed to the delegation the S.F.G.’s position that a “reconciliation process” managed by the S.F.G. needed to be put in place in the deep south. The I.G.A.D. mission also met with elders, positicians, and civil-society figures in Mogadishu. RBC reported that the I.G.A.D. delegation had insisted that the dispute “between warlords” be resolved and committed to cooperating with the S.F.G. The interim governor of the Gedo region, Mohamed Abdi Kalil, announced that his administration did not recognize Madobe’s government and that the S.F.G. was “entrusted” with forming administrations in the deep south.

On May 18, the I.G.A.D. delegation arrived in Kismayo and quickly held a three-way meeting with Jubbaland leaders, local elders, and the S.F.G.’s Joint Reconciliation Committee, which had also arrived in the city. On May 19, Shabelle reported that the I.G.A.D. delegation had met with four presumptive “presidents” of the deep-southern regions and had urged them to refrain from conflict. The Mareeg website reported that a demonstration took place in Kismayo against I.G.A.D., Kenya, and Madobe. Kenya’s Standard newspaper quoted the spokesman for the K.D.F., Cyrus Oguna, as endorsing Madobe’s election: “Having a government out of the efforts of the Somali people is something worth applauding.” S.F.G. President Hassan said that it was “clear that the Jubbaland conference had excluded groups.”

I.G.A.D. departed from Kismayo having failed to break the deadlock. On May 20, Reuters reported that Shirdon had called for “peaceful and authentic negotiations” among the disputants. The S.F.G.’s Joint Reconciliation Committee met with three of the presidential rivals. Reuters also reported that the Western powers had become concerned that a resurgence of H.S.M. was possible.

On May 21, Shabelle reported that the new S.F.G. military commander in the deep south, Col. Farah Makombo, had said that there were no S.F.G. troops in Kismayo, only clan militias. He appealed to the S.F.G. to send forces to the city.

As the deadlock tightened, the Standard reported on May 23 that hyper-fragmentation had set in with six declared “presidents,” each one with a base of sub-clan support: Madobe (Ogaden-Majertein), Hirale (Marehan), Abdi Baley (Galcee), Iffin Mohamed Saysun (Ormale), Abdikadir Ali Mohamed (Rahanweyne), and Omar Buare Ahmed (Sh. Ali).

According to a closed source, the conflict has taken on the aspect of a dispute over the S.F.G., with the Ogaden and Majertein seeking to weaken and displace Shirdon, who is Marehan and whom they accuse of being “soft and not assertive enough” with President Hassan (Hawiye); whereas the Marehan are trying to defend their hold on the prime minister’s office, accusing the Ogaden and Majertein of engineering a power grab.

On May 23, The Standard reported that the S.F.G. “reconciliation” mission in Kismayo had complained that the Jubbaland administration and the Kenyan AMISOM forces had refused to provide it with protection, making it impossible for the mission to perform its “fact-finding” function. The mission also noted that flights between Mogadishu and Kismayo had been suspended. The Standard also reported that a group of Kenyan businessmen had asked their government to reconsider its support for Jubbaland and not to take sides in “the emerging conflict” between Jubbaland and the S.F.G. The businessmen predicted “a new wave of insecurity” as “warlords” fought over control of Kismayo’s lucrative port.

On May 24, the I.G.A.D. “Confidence-Building Mission” presented its report to the parent organization, confirming the deadlock. The mission found that both sides agreed on “the need to follow the provisional constitution,” but differed in its interpretation; and that the inclusivity of the Jubbaland process was “contestable, especially among the minority.” The report recommended that the S.F.G. and the federal parliament “expedite enactment of the necessary laws that govern the establishment of regional administration,” and proposed that the S.F.G. take “the lead role in the formation of regional administrations including Juba regions.” Seeming to favor the S.F.G.’s position over Jubbaland’s, the report, however, in its only practical recommendation, recognized “the fragility of the situation in Kismayo” and said that the S.F.G. should “convene and lead” a “reconciliation conference with the support of I.G.A.D. while consulting key Stakeholders in Kismayo;” and that “stakeholders in Kismayo” should “go to Mogadishu and dialogue with the Federal Government regarding the interim regional administration.” The report, then, gives neither side what it wanted: Jubbaland has not been endorsed as a legitimate regional state, yet the S.F.G. has been told to negotiate with Jubbaland rather than take sole responsibility for forming an administration in Lower Jubba.

It is possible that a “reconciliation conference” would break the deadlock; whether or not one even takes place depends on how much pressure external actors are willing to bring on the two sides. The root of the problem, of course, is the engineering by the Western powers through the United Nations of a forced “transition” from the T.F.G. to the S.F.G. in 2012 that left unwritten “the necessary laws that govern the establishment of regional administration” — an act of egregious negligence. As a result, the deep-southern regions are “stateless” and the determination of a state-form for “Somalia” remains unresolved.


Re-read the introduction to the foregoing analysis, which offered a thumbnail political history of “Somalia,” in light of the chronology of developments during the past month in the deep south, and it will become clear that the past oppresses the present. Everything that was is here and now, layer upon layer of toxic sediment.

Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago

Read other articles on somaliland and somalia by the same author here