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Somalia: Farmajo’s gamble in Gedo could bring truckload of risks: Experts

Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo under US pressure to pull out troops from Gedo region

EDITORIAL | Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo placed a call to his Kenyan counterpart on Thursday, offering to deescalate the tensions that had punctuated their common border at Mandera and Bulla-Hawo in Gedo region.

But whether that could actually remove the tensions remained a matter of debate. By Thursday night, our sources and experts indicated Farmajo still retained his eyes focused on the prize: Political stranglehold of entire Somalia, no matter the roadblocks.

It had begun on Monday after the special forces of the Somali National Army (SNA) fought with the Jubaland forces. Traditionally united against Al-Shabaab, the forces were now fighting each other. In other words, Somalia was fighting itself.

After the fighting, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta accused Somalia of violating Nairobi’s territorial integrity. Kanze Dena-Moraro, President Kenyatta’s spokesperson told journalists in Nairobi Kenya had remained restrained, but that the SNA had blatantly abused the calmness by fighting on Kenyan soil. (The SNA reportedly followed Jubaland forces, housed at a security station in Mandera, Kenya).

“The foreign soldiers in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions engaged 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 unwarranted attack by foreign soldiers with the intention of provoking Kenya. In keeping with our long-standing and distinguished tradition in peacekeeping and peacebuilding in the region and beyond and in particular – in Somalia; Kenya acted with total restraint.”

Actually, it meant Kenya was accusing Somalia of the very thing Mogadishu had accused Kenya of doing: Violating territorial integrity. Sources, however, told Garowe Online, Mogadishu had labeled Kenya as a violator to divert attention to something else: Somalia’s internal politics and Farmajo’s own ambitions.

“Accusing Kenya of violations helps him whip up public emotions in support of him. He has, in the short-term, ambitions to ensure the Jubaland administration, which he doesn’t recognize, become unpopular by making Gedo insecure,” a senior political and security consultant in Somalia told Garowe Online, speaking on the background for his own safety.

“He sees a strategic advantage in that: controlling most of the federal states will enable him to probably rig himself in,” the expert added, referring to the five Federal Member States in Somalia, namely Jubaland, Galmudug, Puntland, South West, and HirShabelle.

Since Ahmed Madobe was re-elected President of Jubaland last August, Farmajo has insisted the polls should be redone and refused to recognize the results. The Problem is Madobe remains an ally of Kenya so it wasn’t surprising that the Jubaland forces fighting in defense of the state’s security minister, Abdirashid Janan, and sheltered in Kenya.

Though Farmajo had publicly claimed Kenya should hand over Janan for trial, Nairobi says there has been no formal request to have him extradited. A spokesperson at the State Law Office in Nairobi said Kenya and Somalia an agreement to cooperate on judicial matters, but added: “We have not seen any request.”

If Farmajo did follow that channel, argued Paul Okore, an International legal expert in Nairobi, he could lose his political reasons. “Diplomatically, you make a request through the other country’s corresponding office, in this case, the Foreign Ministry and the Attorney-General’s Office. Everything could happen behind the scenes,” Okore argued.

“To make it public means those 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 political capital from it which has happened in this case.”

Kenya did allude to that politics when reacting to Somalia’s accusations. But how far can Farmajo go?

The SNA troops, trained by Turkey and supported by the US, were deployed to track down Abdirashid Janan, current Jubaland security minister initially detained in Mogadishu in 2019 for ‘serious rights violations.’ Why the SNA, legally supposed to defend Somali borders and help battle Al-Shabaab, were tracking Janan, has been the unanswered question.

“These forces were trained to fight Al-Shabaab. In Gedo, that is not what they are doing,” the security advisor added.

“They are playing a part in local clan politics so Farmajo has to find something else to divert attention from that misuse. The risk is that people in Gedo will start noticing and would probably reject the presence of the SNA which could lead to clan divisions. Al-Shabaab likes that,” he warned.

That is not the only risk though. Faisal Roble, a Somali political analyst said Farmajo was keen on seeing through his “doctrine” but which was fraught with risk.

“Farmajo’s doctrine, rooted in his belief of Somalia’s elite wronging or mistreating Siad Barre and his own humiliation in the hands of contemporary politicians, will certainly employ the toolbox of “Might is Right,” even if he has to succumb Somalia to the quagmire,” Roble argued in a blog this week.

“The ‘Farmajo Doctrine’ is already in full gear and Somali regions are either in war with the federal government, amongst themselves, or with terror groups. And that is not what Somalis expected to see in 2020.”

Roble, who argued Farmajo is a political student of nationalist Siad Barre, who was ousted in 1991 by warlords, plunging the country to today’s chaos, accused the US of looking the other way. But the US Ambassador to Somalia publicly called for the two sides to choose dialogue, especially since Somalia needs to move forward and plan for elections.

“We call for a peaceful political solution to the conflict. All leaders need to be patient and deescalate for the benefit of all Somalis in the region,” Yamamoto, who previously recognized Madobe, called.

So what is next for Farmajo? Experts in Somalia told Garowe Online he may actually be pacifying donors with a de-escalation gesture. But he will not relent on targeting Jubaland. Having planted his loyal leaders in Galmudug, HirShabelle, and South West, adding Jubaland could be the ultimate prize.

Except, argued Abdallah Ibrahim, the Director of the East Africa Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in Nairobi, it is not him alone eyeing prizes in Somalia.

“It was 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 fuel the tension.

Mogadishu, supported by Ethiopia, wants to control federal states ahead of elections. Mogadishu and Nairobi also expect a decision at the International Court of Justice next June, which could redefine their maritime boundary, rich in fossil fuel.

No wonder, he argued, Farmajo’s announced de-escalation was not followed with ground troop withdrawal.


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