What next for Somalia’s Kismayu?
By RASHID ABDI
A prominent Somali faction leader and a principle ally of the Kenyan and AU military campaign in southern Somalia had predicted that allied forces would take control of the prized southern port city of Kismayu “early next week”. AU troops said they had seized parts of the Al-Shabaab stronghold earlier Friday, and concerns will now shift to what happens in the immediate aftermath following full control.
Speaking to our sister publication the Daily Nation in an exclusive telephone interview September 26 from an undisclosed “frontline position” near Kismayu, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, the commander of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, which has been fighting alongside AU troops, talked about early challenges that may be faced.
Sheikh Madobe has sought to reassure the residents of Kismayu and said they had nothing to fear from the prospect of the city changing hands, dismissing claims his faction was animated by a clan agenda as “propaganda”.
Excerpts of the transcript.
Q: Talks have been going in Karen (Nairobi) in recent months aimed at creating an inclusive administration for Kismayu. Can you tell us how they are going? Any progress?
A: The talks are still continuing, even though, admittedly, the pace has been slow. We are waiting for the technical committee overseeing the process to complete its work soon. Afterwards, there will be a second phase, which will see a major conference convened, hopefully, inside Somalia. The conference will deliberate on the many proposals put forward by the technical committee before arriving at a decision. It is this conference that will ultimately complete, agree and endorse the composition of the future administration that will govern Kismayu. Only then will the new administration be unveiled. We are very optimistic about this conference. We are very satisfied with the work of the technical committee and the progress so far made.
Q: There have been reports the imminent fall of Kismayu is creating anxiety among some clans that feel apprehensive about possible Ogaden clan dominance? How are you addressing these perceptions and fears?
A: (Laughs) These are just propaganda churned out by the Somali rumour-mills and idlers in Nairobi. There is no such thing. These forces (Ras Kamboni Brigade) are Somali and Kenya is a brotherly neighbouring state. They are not affiliated to this or that clan. The claim that the Ogaden or Marehan are invading other clans is simply untrue. I do not know where this claim is originating from. Obviously, any leader of a group is born to a clan, is a member of a specific clan. Must this then automatically imply that he is fronting for a clan interest? This is nonsense – sheer propaganda – without foundation. The proposed conference will create an all-inclusive administration, God willing, and all will be free to vote and express their opinion. Those of us inside the country and are pained by the presence of Al-Shabaab know the truth. And to reiterate: there is no cause for fear and these claims should be seen as propaganda by idlers and nothing else.
Q: In the light of the experience in Mogadishu, how prepared are you for the potential risks of increased insecurity and insurgency-related violence in Kismayu after its fall?
A: Look, first of all, Kismayu is smaller in size than Mogadishu. Second, we know Al-Shabaab well and are familiar with their modus operandi and schemes. God willing, we will deal with them appropriately. We know of their plans. We know they left an estimated 500 fighters in the city of Kismayu to cause trouble. We will deal with them robustly, I assure you. We are hopeful things will not be that difficult. Kismayu is not like Mogadishu. It is a much smaller place where it is not too difficult to know everything and everyone.
Q. What are the relations between Ras Kamboni and the other Somali factions in the anti-Shabaab alliance – especially the Gandhi group – like?
A: Whether it is the Gandhi group, Ahlu Sunnah (wal Jama’a), the Somali government or the other groups – we are all part of a broad alliance. We are fighting together for the same cause. We have one agenda. At this moment, we have no differences with anyone. We are all part of the (Karen) talks and it is that process and its outcome that will ultimately govern relations. Obviously, all the issues relating to the future administration will be decided within the framework of those negotiations.
Q: What is your reaction to the recent political changes in Mogadishu?
A: We very much welcome the changes. We have expressed our support and the inhabitants of the areas under our control have come out in spontaneous demonstrations to voice their support. We welcome the new government and the changes. We anticipate no friction and look forward to better cooperation, because the rights we are struggling for are constitutional rights. It is our hope the new government will, God willing, become a genuine Somali government able to tackle all problems with keen resolve.
Q: Finally, what is your reaction to weekend incident during which a Kenyan soldier killed six civilians?
A: We have discussed the incident with the Kenyan government and with the Department of Defence and the matter has since been concluded. The Kenyan authorities expressed their apology over this regrettable incident. We have been told the soldier will be court-martialled and we intend to follow the trial closely as observers. Diya (blood money) has been promised to the families of the victims. Under Sharia laws this amounts to 100 camels or the monetary equivalent for each of the victims. A Somali committee has been set up to work on this. And we are hoping the issue of compensation as well as all the other expenses will be finalised soon. Those wounded will also be treated by them (Kenyans) and their entitlements sorted out once they have been restored to health.
Q: Who specifically is paying the diya – the Kenyan government or other parties?
A: The Kenyan government or Amisom – it does not matter. Our discussion was with the DoD and the Kenyan government. The issue has upset all of us – our colleagues in the alliance as well as the Kenyan government – equally. Thank God, it has now been amicably settled and is behind us.
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