Jubaland is a budding rose of democracy, shield it from thorns

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It is now official. Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe” is the President of the Somali Federal State of Jubaland.

Madobe won the August 22 elections in the first round, garnering 56 votes against Anab Mohamed Dahir’s 17 votes, way more than the requisite two-thirds of the 74 MPs.

However, uncertainties around the election revealed Jubaland as a small-scale version of the African continent, now caught up in the tidal wave of a global crisis of democracy.

In Africa, the story starts in 1989, when the liberal ideals washed over the continent in what Samuel Huntington theorised as “waves of democracy”.

Thinkers like Francis Fukuyama celebrated “the end of history”, the triumph of liberalism over its ideological challengers.

History returned with a vengeance as states fell into civil wars. The 2019 election is a giant leap in Jubaland’s transition to democracy.

It has an elected president, a State Assembly, a Speaker and deputy Speakers, council of elders, and a functioning Jubaland Electoral and Boundaries Commission (JEBC). But it faces four-fold threats.

INTERFERENCE

First is a winner-takes-all adversarial or oppositional system that has seen elections degenerating into chaos, anarchy and violence.

Laudably, in his acceptance speech, Madobe was reconciliatory, reaching out to his erstwhile challengers. Elections should pave the way for peace and prosperity.

Second is a standoff between the Federal States and the Federal Government. Madobe easily won presidential elections in 2013 and 2015.

But in 2019, he faced a doctrinaire competition from opponents backed largely by Villa Somalia.

In a sense, the Jubaland election was a bare-knuckled fight between Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, alias Farmajo, and Madobe.

In September 2018, Madobe was part of a five-member regional umbrella which demanded more autonomy from Mogadishu and suspended ties with Villa Somalia over “interference”.

On his part, Farmajo represents the idea of stabilising Somalia from the centre by subduing member states.

RECONCILIATION

Seemingly a throwback to the age of militarism, this strategy is backed by Ethiopia and United States officials in Mogadishu.

After successfully putting his men in Hirshabele, South West and Galmudug, Farmajo turned his sight on Jubaland. Madobe’s election is a blow to this strategy.

However, the peaceful elections offer the best chance for all actors in Somalia to recommit themselves to ending the standoff.

Madobe has asked the leadership of the Federal Government of Somalia, beginning with the President, for forgiveness, and called for national reconciliation.

But on August 22, the Federal Government announced it would not recognise results of the Jubaland election.

SHABAAB

Third, a resurgent Al-Shabaab cast a long shadow over a peaceful election in Jubaland, raising questions about the growing trend to weaponise terrorism in electoral processes.

The group targeted elders as kingmakers in Somalia’s current electoral process.

In mid-July it issued a warning to all regional councils of elders to withdraw from the political process within 45 days or risk death.

And on July 31, Suldan Rashid Dhure Omar, a renowned traditional elder and one of the eminent elders tasked with selecting members for Jubaland’s assembly ahead of the August poll, was killed.

On July 12, Al-Shabaab bombed the Asasey Hotel in Kismayo, killing at least 26 people. The election creates the best opportunity for partnerships to defeat the group.

Fourth, the election reflected the faltering regional security consensus between Kenya and Ethiopia, which has underpinned war and peace in the Horn of Africa.

MARITIME DISPUTE

Geopolitically, Jubaland has always been a buffer to Kenya and Ethiopia against militants.

A hostile leader in Kismayo is Nairobi’s worst nightmare. But balancing its own security interests against its relations with Somalia has been a tall order.

Kenya has become a bogeyman for Villa Somalis, which has whipped ethno-nationalism to fever-pitch, projecting the Jubaland election as a proxy war between Kenya and Somalia, which it was not.

The Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute also came as a windfall in Villa Somalia’s Jubaland strategy.

While the co-ordination of Amisom forces to create the requisite secure environment in Jubaland for the election to take place was expected on the ground, there were hair-raising moments in the Kenya and Ethiopia involvement in Jubaland.

In August 2019, Ethiopia openly supported Villa Somalia lock, stock and barrel.

This created fear that Ethiopian forces in Amisom would arrest Madobe the way they arrested Mukhtar Robow, a presidential candidate in South West State, and flew him to Mogadishu on December 13, 2018.

TENSIONS

In response, Jubaland blockaded Mogadishu officials from travelling to Kismayo.

Seemingly at the behest of Mogadishu, Ethiopia dispatched high-ranking military and intelligence officers to Madobe, calling on him to delay the election; reopen registration for presidential candidates and lift ministerial blockade of senior FGS officials from visiting Kismayo.

Jubaland declined, dismissing this as a ploy to derail the whole electoral process and push for a caretaker administration under Mogadishu’s thumb.

Further, according to the Addis Standard, an Ethiopian news magazine, on August 19, Jubaland denied an Ethiopian aircraft permission to land in Kismayo Airport, suspecting that it was carrying troops.

Tensions also spiralled in Gedo region as Jubaland closed airspace, sea and land while anti-aircraft artillery was mounted to confront incoming hostile aircraft.

SUPPORT

In a Press release on August 23, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs congratulated Madobe on his re-election, but called on him to “usher in a new era of reconciliation”.

The international crowd in Mogadishu blew hot and cold, making demands and imposing them as conditions for the presidential elections to take place.

However, in a briefing with the UN Security Council on Somalia on August 21, Ambassador Jonathan Cohen, the Acting Permanent Representative U.S Mission to the United Nations, stressed that the elections would “reaffirm mutual respect between the central and state governments”, laudably urging all parties “to support peaceful election, and to avoid any interference in the electoral process.”

Jubaland’s election paves the way for national election in 2021.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former Government adviser and currently chief executive of Africa Policy Institute (Kenya).

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