NAIROBI, KENYA — The Somali port city of Kismayo is in political crisis as two former warlords are both claiming to be president of the newly created Jubaland region of southern Somalia. Fears are growing that the rivalry could lead to an outbreak of violence. The Somali government still maintains it doesn’t recognize the two leaders.
The political division in southern Somalia still continues after more than six months of negotiations to elect local authorities to govern the regions of Gedo, Middle and Lower Juba.
On Wednesday, 495 delegates meeting in Kismayo elected Ras Kamboni militia leader Ahmed Madobe as the president of Jubaland, over four other candidates.
But another former warlord, Barre Hirale, who controlled Kismayo for close to nine years, has said he was elected at a separate conference of elders.
“In a conference, which was going on for some time, I was elected as the president of Jubaland,” said Hirale. "In that conference 600 delegates attended and 500 voted for me. Because of that I have become the president of Jubaland.”
Hirale was chased out of Kismayo by al-Shabab militants - when Ahmed Madobe was a top commander in the group. He returned to Kismayo last month by sea with dozens of loyal soldiers.
Abdi Mohamed Yarow is an elder with the Hawiye clan, which is in the minority in Kismayo. He was present at the swearing-in ceremony and told VOA the elders had appointed Hirale as their president.
“Today we were at the swearing-in ceremony of the president of Jubaland state Barre Hirale,' Yarow said. "We have decided to make him [Madobe] our president and we have just done that, he is the president of Jubaland.”
Some sections of the Somali population have expressed concerns over the recent threats of violence in the city and its environs concerning this dispute over who should be president.
Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa researcher at Chatham House, a foreign policy institute in London, said to avoid a return of violence in the region, both militias from the two rival camps need to be integrated into the Somali national army.
“What we are talking about is eventually, militia being reintegrated into Somali national force. That’s a way of stemming potential conflict in the future, but it very much has to come off the back of political process and I do see political process is in complete and it would continue,” said Soliman.
He also said that after months of negotiations, people can’t be too impatient. Soliman noted the process will take time, and he said that expressing fears is not the right way forward.
“I think there is need to take time, and to asses and to negotiate properly with all the stakeholders. It does seem to me there are a lot of stakeholders involved, and that’s a good thing, and that means it takes longer to achieve consensus,” he said.
The government in Mogadishu has expressed concerns about the roles played in Jubaland by some stakeholders, particularly by the Kenyan government. Kenya has been accused of backing the Ras Kamboni leader, Ahmed Madobe, who helped Kenyan forces to liberate Kismayo last year.
The Somali federal government has refused to recognize any leadership appointments in Jubaland, deeming the process unconstitutional.
A sixteen-member committee appointed by the prime minister to look into the Jubaland issue arrived Thursday in Kismayo.