Talks on the creation of the federal state of Jubaland in southern Somalia have made little progress despite months of negotiations.
In the meantime, relations between the central government and local actors have become increasingly strained, evidenced by a power struggle over the port city of Kismayo. The tensions have thrown the country's new federal system into doubt.
Since the capture of Kismayo by Kenya Defense Forces in October of last year, politicians, elders and local militias have been engaged in talks organized by the eastern African organization IGAD.
Over the past month, a meeting of 800 delegates representing local communities from the regions of Gedo, Lower and Middle Juba approved a constitution for the new state. However, some participants have complained that the balance was stacked in favor of more powerful players in the discussions.
One of the delegates, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said the conference was heavily influenced by Ras Kamboni militia leader Ahmed Madobe, who helped Kenyan forces liberate Kismayo from al-Shabab.
“The conference was supposed to be neutral and every region is to express its views independently,” he said. “There were 870 delegates who approved the constitution, when there were supposed to be 500. Some of these delegates were Ras Kamboni militiamen who were in civilian clothes.”
Neither Madobe nor any representative of Ras Kamboni returned calls for comment.
Hassan Samantar, a politician and key player in establishing Galmudug state in central Somalia, said clan representation at the conference was also unbalanced.
“The problem now is the representation of the elders who will select the delegates based on the regions, so this is really a big headache," he said. "Some groups, they were protesting yesterday that they were not having a fair representation [and] that some clans, they were given for example 10 elders to represent them, others one or two , so there was no balance.”
The process of creating Jubaland has attracted the interests of Kenya, Ethiopia, IGAD and the Somali federal government, which is trying to define its relationship with the region of 1.3 million inhabitants.
The new Somali constitution ratified last year sets up a system of states around a central government, but some observers say there has been little progress in establishing the mechanisms to make federalism work.
Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa researcher at Chatham House, a foreign policy institute in London, said there are no clear rules for the founding of Jubaland, and that the uncertainty over the process could be dangerous.
“It does seem to me pressure to rush ahead with this, whether or not this means we will see potential conflict over Kismayo or Jubaland remains to be seen, but there is certainly a chance that could happen given the nature of how things are moving ahead,” Soliman said.
There are already indications of rising tension, as several sources in Kismayo confirmed that former warlord Barre Hirale, who once controlled the port city for close to nine years, arrived Thursday by sea along with dozens of loyal militia soldiers.
Soliman said Hirale’s presence could be a concern to the region and everyone involved in the process.
“That would be a concern for the region and it would be in concern whoever in Kismayo is able to uphold the peace because the peace has been relatively sure in making AMISOM coming into Kismayo so you wouldn't want a conflict to start right now, it won’t be good for the process,” said Soliman.
The central government has dismissed the Jubaland process as unconstitutional, saying it lacks legitimacy.