NAIROBI — Today al-Shabab militants are nowhere to be seen in the Somali port city of Kismayo, which was once their financial hub and their last major stronghold in Somalia. But those who united to defeat their common enemy in the city are now fighting for control of liberated areas and for who gets the big share of seaport revenue.
Much of Somalia’s two decades of brutal war was characterized by the fight for control of territories and strategic towns that produce clan pride and financial muscle.
The fight is still going on today over the newly created Jubaland region in southern Somalia, where at least three different men have claimed to be president of a new Jubaland state.
Kismayo is the gateway into Jubaland which consists of three regions, Gedo, Middle and Lower Juba, and the person who is able to control the city’s port will have considerable leverage to control the other areas.
An accountant who works at the port, but didn’t want to give his name for security reasons, said all the men claiming the presidency are jostling for money from the port.
"They do usually say they will take away what comes their way,” and he adds “These people have never worked for a government, and they don’t know how to manage a port. They are rebels who are stealing the resources and taking what they can get," he said.
The accountant says boats dock at the port of Kismayo carrying much needed basic commodities like milk powder and flour and later the boats leave loaded with charcoal, the only valuable export of Somalia at the present time.
He says the monthly port revenue is currently divided between the port administration led by Ahmed Madobe, who heads the militia group Raskamboni, and Kenyan forces.
Kenyan soldiers are providing security in Kismayo as part of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force known as AMISOM, which succeeded in driving al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other areas.
“In reality the port is controlled by Kenyan forces, they are the ones who divide the revenue," he said. "Kenyan forces take their own share and the other share is taken by Ahmed Madobe.”
The Somali government has accused Kenya of supporting Madobe, who is one of the men claiming to be president of the Jubaland region.
Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna says their relationship with Madobe is one inspired by necessity since they were confronted by the same enemy, al-Shabab, more than two years ago.
Oguna also says those accusing the Kenyan Defense Forces, the KDF, of collecting money want Kenyan troops out so that al-Shabab can take control of the port.
“KDF is out there to execute the AMISOM mandate, and those are allegations which are perhaps peddled around by people who would want KDF to move out so that they can be able to have al-Shabab back. And certainly those are people who don’t want or even wish well for the people of Somalia. Those are people who are inspired by self-interest,” Oguna said.
Kenyan forces initially went into Somalia in October 2011 to secure the border following a series of attacks and kidnappings in Kenyan territory blamed on al-Shabab.
But Oguna says now that the Kenyans are part of the AU force, soldiers in Kismayo receive their orders from AMISOM commanders in Mogadishu.
He says people should focus on stabilizing the region and stop all the infighting.
But the political bickering over Jubaland is likely to continue, as the federal government of Somalia has maintained that the establishment of Jubaland state was unconstitutional and has called for the process to come back under their authority.