EDITORIAL | Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo called his Kenyan counterpart on Thursday and offered to dispel tensions that had punctured their common border at Mandera and Bulla-Hawo in the Gedo region.
But whether it could actually remove the tensions was still a matter of debate. On Thursday night, our sources and experts indicated that Farmajo was still keeping its eyes focused on the price: Political suffocation throughout Somalia, regardless of roadblocks.
It had begun Monday after special forces in the Somali National Army (SNA) battled Jubaland forces. Traditionally united against Al-Shabaab, the forces now fought against each other. In other words, Somalia was fighting itself.
Following the fighting, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta accused Somalia of violating Nairobi’s territorial integrity. Kanze Dena-Moraro, a spokesman for President Kenyatta, told reporters in Nairobi that Kenya had been detained but that the SNA had blatantly abused its calm by fighting on Kenyan soil. (SNA allegedly followed Jubaland forces stationed at a security station in Mandera, Kenya).
“The foreign soldiers in blatant violation and total violation of international laws and conventions involved in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” Ms Dena-Moraro said.
“This action amounts to an unjustified attack by foreign soldiers with the aim of provoking Kenya. In line with our long and prominent tradition of peacekeeping and peacebuilding in the region and beyond and especially – in Somalia; Kenya acted with total restraint. ”
In fact, it meant that Kenya accused Somalia of what Mogadishu had accused Kenya of doing: violation of territorial integrity. Sources, however, told Axadlethat Mogadishu had labeled Kenya as a violation to divert attention to something else: Somalia’s internal policy and Farmajo’s own ambitions.
“Blaming Kenya for violations helps him whip up public sentiment in support of him. In the short term, he has ambitions to ensure that the Jubaland administration, which he does not recognize, becomes unpopular by making Gedo insecure, ”a senior Somali political and security adviser told Garowe Online, speaking about the background to his own security.
“He sees a strategic advantage in this: controlling most federal states will probably allow him to rig in,” the expert added, referring to the five federal states in Somalia, namely Jubaland, Galmudug, Puntland, Southwest and HirShabelle.
Since Ahmed Madobe was re-elected president of Jubaland last August, Farmajo has insisted that the votes be rescheduled and refused to recognize the results. The problem is that Madobe remains an ally in Kenya, so it was not surprising that Jubaland forces fought in defense of the state security minister, Abdirashid Janan, and were stationed in Kenya.
Although Farmajo had publicly claimed that Kenya should extradite Janan for trial, Nairobi says there has been no formal request to have him extradited. A spokesman for the Nairobi State Attorney’s Office said Kenya and Somalia are in agreement on co-operation on legal issues, but added: “We have not seen any request.”
If Farmajo followed that channel, Paul Okore, an international legal expert in Nairobi, claimed he could lose his political reasons. “Diplomatically, you make a request through the corresponding office of the other country, in this case the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General. Anything could happen behind the scenes, ”Okore argued.
“Publishing means that these channels are broken, which is unlikely because Kenya and Somalia still have existing diplomatic missions. The second reason is that one side wants to milk the political capital out of what has happened in this case. ”
Kenya hinted at this policy in response to Somalia’s allegations. But how far can Farmajo go?
The SNA troops, trained by Turkey and backed by the United States, were deployed to track down Abdirashid Janan, the current Jubaland security minister who was originally detained in Mogadishu in 2019 for ‘serious violations of rights’. Why the SNA, which was supposed to legally defend Somali borders and help fight Al-Shabaab, followed Janan, has been the unanswered question.
“These forces were trained to fight Al-Shabaab. In Gedo, that’s not what they’re doing, ”the security adviser added.
“They play a role in local clan politics, so Farmajo has to find something else to divert attention from that abuse. The risk is that people in Gedo start to notice it and are likely to reject the presence of SNA, which could lead to clan division. Al-Shabaab likes it, “he warned.
However, this is not the only risk. Faisal Roble, a Somali political analyst, said Farmajo was eager to review his “doctrine” but was at risk.
Farmajo’s doctrine, rooted in his belief in Somalia’s elite who violate or mistreat Siad Barre, and his own humiliation at the hands of contemporary politicians, will certainly use the toolbox ‘Might is Right’, even if he has to surrender Somalia to ant, ”Roble argued in a blog post this week.
“The pharmajo doctrine is already in full swing, and Somali regions are either at war with the federal government or with terrorist groups. And that is not what Somalis expected to see in 2020. ”
Roble, who argued that Farmajo is a political student of nationalist Siad Barre, who was ousted in 1991 by warlords who threw the country into today’s chaos, accused the United States of looking the other way. But the US ambassador to Somalia publicly called on the two sides to choose dialogue, especially as Somalia needs to move forward and plan elections.
“We call for a peaceful political solution to the conflict. All leaders must be patient and downsize for the benefit of all Somalis in the region, ”said Yamamoto, who previously recognized Madobe.
So what’s next for Farmajo? Experts in Somalia told Axadlethat he can actually pacify donors with a de-escalation gesture. But he will not stop targeting Jubaland. Having planted its loyal leaders in Galmudug, HirShabelle and South West, the addition of Jubaland could be the ultimate award.
Apart from, claimed Abdallah Ibrahim, director of the East Africa Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Nairobi, it is not he alone who sees prices in Somalia.
“It was an avoidable conflict, but as long as there is no official ceasefire, I am afraid it could start again,” he said, adding that Somalia and Kenya are competing for Jubaland, which could give rise to tension.
Mogadishu, backed by Ethiopia, wants to control federal states before the election. Mogadishu and Nairobi are also expecting a ruling by the International Court of Justice in June next year, which could redefine their maritime border, rich in fossil fuels.
No wonder, he argued, Farmajo’s announced de-escalation was not followed by the withdrawal of the ground troop.