GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) – The president of Jubbaland, a Somali region critical to East Africa’s fight against al Shabaab militants, won a fresh term on Thursday, the parliamentary speaker said, amid a growing rift between the federal government and its semi-autonomous states.
Ahmed Mohamed Madobe, a top security partner for neighbouring Kenya, which helps Somalia fight the militant group, won 56 of the 74 votes cast by lawmakers in the regional parliament, speaker Cabdi Maxamed Abdirahmaan said.
The bitter local contest has stoked tensions between Kenya and Ethiopia, longtime allies who both have large contingents of peacekeepers in the country and see Jubbaland as a buffer zone against Islamist attacks in their own countries. Kenya supports Madobe, while Ethiopia has grown increasingly close to the federal government in Mogadishu.
“I am ready to sit and speak with all people, including the opposition. I will speak and work with anyone who has a complaint,” Madobe told parliament after the vote.
There was no immediate reaction from the central government in Mogadishu to the result. Mogadishu said on Saturday it would not recognise the result, saying the candidate selection process had violated the national constitution.
It has accused Madobe of interfering in the process and has backed opposition candidates, who were rejected by the electoral commission when they attempted to register.
Not all of Somalia’s stakeholders have confidence in the process and there is a risk that the vote’s outcome will not be widely accepted, the United Nations mission in Somalia said last week.
The barred opposition candidates said they held their own vote in Kismayo on Thursday, electing Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig.
The impact of this parallel vote was not immediately clear. Ahead of the vote, the group of barred opposition candidates said in a statement: “Our parallel government formation will continue until the other side stops the process.”
The re-elected leader Madobe ousted Shabaab from Jubbaland’s capital in 2012 with the help of Kenyan forces, took power and was elected in 2015.
Analysts say that Somalia’s president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo must exert greater control over Jubbaland and the other regions ahead of national elections next year and that he does not see Madobe as a viable partner.
Jubbaland is the third of the country’s seven semi-autonomous regions to hold presidential elections before next year’s national presidential vote.
With lush farmland, good seasonal rainfall and a strategically important port in Kismayo, it is seen as the breadbasket of Somalia. Its shoreline delineates a hotly contested maritime zone claimed by both Somalia and Kenya with potential oil and gas deposits.
But Shabaab controls swathes of territory and towns in Jubbaland and it may exploit the spat over the election, analysts say.
The militants, who want to overthrow the Somali government and impose Islamic law, have killed hundreds of civilians across East Africa and thousands of Somalis in a decade-long insurgency.
The political divisions could benefit Shabaab if Jubbaland’s military is distracted by fending off “enemies” including Ethiopian troops supporting the central government, proxy groups backed by Somalia’s presidency, and even federal troops, said Faisal Roble, a Horn of Africa analyst. “Jubbaland will be pressed hard by all these fronts.”
Somalia has been trying to claw its way out of the embers of the civil war that engulfed it in 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other.
Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Maggie Fick, William Maclean