A new deal has recognised Jubaland, a strip of land in southern Somalia and bordering on Kenya and Ethiopia, as yet another quasi-independent entity in the region.
BY MARTIN PLAUT PUBLISHED 03 SEPTEMBER 2013 10:42
After nine days of late night meetings and plenty of arm-twisting, the fragile government of Somalia was finally forced to accept that a further slice of its territory had slipped beyond its control. The deal, signed in Addis Ababa, recognised Jubaland as yet another quasi-independent entity. This strip of land in southern Somalia and bordering on Kenya and Ethiopia, it is the illegitimate heir of both of these countries.
Jubaland is of critical importance to the whole of southern Somalia. Trade through the port and airport of Kismaayo is a lifeline for the region. In theory Jubaland will be the ‘Interim Juba Administration’ and last for just two years, while Somalia re-forms itself into a Federation. In reality it is now outside Mogadishu’s control – just like those other fragments of Somalia, including Puntland, Galmadug and the self-declared independent state of Somaliland.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was only sworn in as Somali president a year ago, was unable to resist the intense pressure of his neighbours and agreed to the deal. The entire sorry saga was witnessed by Nicholas Kay, the UN’s Special Representative in Somalia; welcomed by Catherine Ashton for the European Union and supported by the African Union. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the South African chair of African Union described the agreement as “historic”, declaring that it was “a further illustration of the capacity of the Somalis to triumph over their differences.”
It is hard to see what there was to welcome.
The deal officially recognises Ahmed Mohamed Islam (known, like all Somalis by a nickname – ‘Madobe’) as the ‘leader’ of Jubaland. Yet only a month earlier Sheikh Madobe was described in a major UN report as a “spoiler” and one of the chief threats to Somali stability.
The Sheikh was said to be “subverting the efforts of the Federal Government leadership and its partners to extend the reach of Government authority and stabilise the country, particularly in Kismaayo.”
What the Baroness Ashton and her colleagues have done is anoint a man who has been roundly denounced by the Monitoring Group, established by the UN Security Council. Its July report pointed out that the Sheikh had been a member of the short-lived Union of Islamic Courts, which was ousted by Ethiopia during its 2006 invasion of Somalia. What happened next is interesting. As the report puts it: “Madobe’s forces returned to Kismayo in August 2008, when Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam recaptured the city following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia.” At this time the Sheikh Madobe was a key player in the al-Qaeda linked network. But, as is ever the case in Somalia, clan and inter-clan rivalry came into play and the Sheikh fell out with his former allies. He threw in his lot with the African peacekeepers and the Federal Government. But Sheikh Madobe did not cut his ties with al-Sabaab altogether and the UN report accuses him of continuing the export of charcoal from territory controlled by the Islamists – a trade long since outlawed by the UN because of its catastrophic impact on the Somali environment.
Under the new arrangement the Sheikh retains the port and the airport, although he is required to hand control to the Federal Government within six months. Since this would cut his income and hence his power, there seems little chance of the handover ever taking place.
The outcome has been a triumph for Somalia’s neighbours, even though Kenya and Ethiopia will continue to vie for influence in this critical part of the country.
The Kenyan foreign ministry has long seen the establishment of a buffer state along its northern border as vital to its security interests. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that Kenya’s Foreign Minister, Moses Wetangula, practically begged the United States for its support when he saw Johnnie Carsons, President Obama’s most senior US Africa official, in January 2010. The Kenyans were requesting backing for an invasion of Somalia to create Jubaland, but the Americans were far from keen.
As the confidential embassy telex puts it: “Carson tactfully, but categorically refused the Kenyan delegation’s attempts to enlist US Government support for their effort.” It was, said the telex, the third time Wetangula had made the appeal, but Carsons resisted, pointing out – rightly – that “the initiative could backfire.” Critically, Carsons warned that: “if successful, a Lower Juba entity could emerge as a rival to the TFG” (Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government). This is exactly what has now come about.
Brushing these concerns aside, Kenya sent its troops into Somalia in October 2011. As predicted, they found it very heavy going and it was to take almost a year before al-Shabaab were driven from Kismaayo.
For the Ethiopians, the establishment of Jubaland is a further fragmentation of Somalia, its sworn enemy since the Somalis invaded their country in 1977. It was an attack that is imprinted on Ethiopian memories, fuelling a determination to see the end of a powerful, centralised Somali state.
As if the situation was not complicated enough, newly created Jubaland could be sitting on reserves of oil. Several fields have been detected in the waters along the Kenya-Somali border, but, like many African frontiers, the location of the border is a matter of dispute. The Somali government refuses to recognise oil licenses granted to multinational companies by Kenya, and has persuaded several oil-majors, including Total and the Norwegian state owned Statoil, to withdraw their claims. But, said the UN in July, the Italian firm, ENI, was still pressing ahead with its claims.
As Jonnie Carsons remarked in 2010, Jubaland “raises more questions than it answers.”