The president of Jubbaland, a Somali region critical to East Africa’s fight against al Shabaab militants, won a fresh term the parliamentary speaker said amid a growing rift between federal government and its semi-autonomous states.
Ahmed Mohamed Madobe, a security partner for neighbouring Kenya, which helps Somalia fight the militant group, won 56 of 74 votes cast by lawmakers in the regional parliament, speaker Cabdi Maxamed Abdirahmaan said.
The local contest stoked tensions between Kenya and Ethiopia, allies who have large contingents of peacekeepers in the country and see Jubbaland as a buffer against Islamist attacks. 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. It said previously it would not recognise the result, saying the candidate selection process violated the national constitution.
It accused Madobe of interfering in the process and backed opposition candidates rejected by the electoral commission when they attempted to register.
Not all Somalia’s stakeholders have confidence in the process and there is a risk the vote outcome will not be widely accepted, the United Nations mission in Somalia said.
Barred opposition candidates held their own vote in Kismayo on Thursday, electing Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig.
The impact of the parallel vote was not immediately clear. Ahead of the vote, the barred opposition candidates said in a statement: “Our parallel government formation will continue until the other side stops the process.”
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 Somalia president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo must exert greater control over Jubbaland and other regions ahead of national elections next year and he does not see Madobe as a viable partner.
Jubbaland is the third of 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 maritime zone claimed by Somalia and Kenya with potential oil and gas deposits.
Shabaab controls swathes of territory and towns in Jubbaland and may exploit the spat over the election, analysts say.
The militants, who want to overthrow the Somali government and impose Islamic law, 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 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 on all these fronts.”