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Puntland, Jubaland, and Political Patronage

By Faisal A. Roble

Jubaland’s Geography: Curse or Blessing

Jubaland has been an important Federal Member State (FMS) of the Somali Federal system since 2012. It has a tortuous past and many contemporary political challenges. It is one of the richest states, yet it is home to the poorest Somalis. The 1990s civil war negatively impacted this region severely and changed hands several times. Traces of past conflicts are still weighing heavily on the current political dispensation of the FMS.

As Jubaland feels more comfortable in its statehood and its people develop their state vision, which does not exist so far, Jubalanders will strive to minimize undue influence coming both from the central government and other federal member states. Its current subservient attitude  to Puntland is untenable.

Located in the most southerly tip of the Somali peninsula, Jubaland is the most diverse state in Somalia; yet it is politically allied with one of the mono-identity states – Puntland state. Over 25 Somali clans call Jubaland home, whereas Puntland is home only to one conglomerate clan family. The two states couldn’t have been more different. 

Whereas Jubaland is resource-rich and political capital poor, Puntland is resource-poor and [relatively] politically rich in political maneuvering. Much has not been done to enhance Jubaland’s human capital in the last two decades. This disparity layered with clan affiliation between the two elites led to the creation of political patronage which rendered the former vulnerable to the latter’s  manipulation. 

Physically, Jubaland is closer to Southwest and Banadir regions, but it tends to seek socio-political affiliation with Puntland. Jumping over its neighbors to reach the tip of north for political patronage negates the importance of neighborliness and the role proximity plays in economic development. The Somali Federal constitution encourages contiguous states to cooperate in development and safety. Because of political patronage with Puntland, however, Jubaland missed out the advantages it could have driven from cooperating with the Southwest State and the Banadir region.   

Such an irrational relationship is man-made political patronage created by the two leaders of Jubaland and Puntland. Whether this patronage is a healthy one is debatable. 

To some, Jubaland could not have survived the pressures coming from the central government without being an ally of Puntland. Some even argue that Puntlanders, like Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, helped establish Jubaland when he served as a Prime Minister. His involvement in all aspects of Jubaland’s politics is certain; What is not certain is the influence he and other Puntlanders have over the leader of Jubaland. 

There are those on the other side of the debate who argue that the unequal patronage between Puntland and Jubaland is not sustainable – a paternalistic relationship, they agree, could be injurious to the politics of Jubaland. Many of the elites hailing from Jubaland disapprove of the unequal relationship their state has with Puntland for different reasons, a subject matter that is beyond the scope of this essay. 

President Madoobe ( left) and Deni

Suffice to say that Jubaland came of age to be the sole arbiter of its own affairs. One key minister in Jubaland told me that the image of their state and its leader have been tarnished in that many percieve Ahmed Islan (Modobe’s) as subservient to the leaders of Puntland.  

Below is a narrative of the manipulation and grip of the choke hold Puntland has over Jubaland. 

Puntland’s Hidden Hand in Jubaland Elections

On July 28, 2021, Jubaland became the first Federal Member State (FMS) to release a partial list of its candidates for the  Upper House (four out of 8). Southwest followed suit by releasing the names for five seats out of its eight seats.

President Abdicasis Laftagreen (Laftagareen) has shown a level of political maturity and sensitivity to equity to give a notable opportunity to women candidates. Of the ten candidates that competed for five positions, eventually women won two out of the five seats, or 40% thus far. This is a positive development worthy of praise. That is a huge feat!

In both Jubaland and Southwest, both leaders could not control their proclivity for shinanigans. In the case of Southwest, two candidates believed to have a relationship with opposition leaders – read presidential contenders (Elias Ali Hassan and Huseen Sheikh Mohamed who are allied to Hassan Sheikh’s UDP and Hussein Sulekh of Himilo Qaran) were denied the opportunity to compete. 

But, Laftagren controlled the narrative with his equitable share to women. The political craftsmanship of Laftagareen lies in creating an extenuating factor to mitigate his folly. By denying opportunities for his nemesis on the one hand, and rewarding women on the other hand, is admirable. As words of praise flooded social media, Laftagareen’s political craftsman shielded him criticisms from social justice squads. 

That is not the case with Jubaland’s Modobe who has taken more egregious decisions with no extenuating steps. In one seat, Madoobe nominated two competitors – Abdillhahi Fartag, the incumbent candidate to compete with Ahmed Mohamed Jama. Unfortunately, Ahmed Mohamed Jama is reportedly Fartag’s chauffeur. In the final hours of candidate selection, Mr. Jama strategically withdrew his name from competition and endorsed his boss. Fartag is one of the fiercest critics of President Farmajo and a firebrand when it comes to filibuster politics. His selection was intentional by Madobe to challenge Farmajo.

Worse, the blanket denial of opportunity for Ahmed Abdirahman Hassan to compete dominated public discussions.  Ahmed Abdirahman is a qualified technocrat with an impressive resume both in academic credentials and in work history; he holds degrees from the Somali National University, Department of Agriculture, University of Iowa, and Guelph University in Canada. 

Ahmed served Jubaland for the last five years with dedication. Served in the positions of Minister for the Presidency and State Minister for the Constitution and Federal Affairs, Ahmed was Madobe’s right hand man earning the status  of “the man who writes Madobe’s reports.” Alas, yanked out of the election process only one day prior to releasing the final list of candidates for Jubaland, Modobe decided to abandon his lieutenant. He did so to appease the more powerful Deni of Puntland. Unlike Laftagareen, Madobe violated ethics, professionalism, and equity. 

One day prior to the list being released, a delegation representing Ahmed Abdirahamn visited Madobe at his residence in Kismayo. Ahmed Abdirahman was in the middle of his well-received campaign, when he heard that he was eliminated from the list of candidates. A day prior to the list coming out, Madobe assured Ahmed Abdirahman’s campaign team of two candidates to compete – Ahmed and another candidate. All Madobe was doing was misleading Ahmed and his team.  In the final analysis, Modobe appears to be a man with no ethics, not professional standards, or someone who does not value equity. 

How did Things Fall Apart?

On June 24, 2021, I had the opportunity to have lunch with former President Abdirahmen Farole (Farole), who was visiting Nairobi. After a long conversation over lunch, the story of Ahmed’s candidacy came up. Soon the conversation drifted to representation. Farole admitted to Ahmed’s superb qualification and agreed to the need for Ahmed’s community to retain the seat. Farole showed at least to us a sense of equity and individual merit.  

In the same week, I had breakfast with Nuraddin Diriye, a confidant of Deni’s at the Jave House in Hurlington, Nairobi.  We exchanged views on many issues and had a candid conversation about Ahmed joining the senate. He both agreed that Ahmed was an ideal fit for the Jubaland seat that was initially occupied by Fatuma Geriyo. Similar conversation took place in many venues where Ahmed’s candidacy received flying colors for his fitness for the seat.

But what happened? A well-connected Puntlander, who in the past campaigned himself for the same position, confided in me on June 24, 2021 that Deni was about to lobby for someone from his clan. He added that Deni sold the seat to the Wabeneye clan family. Wabenaye is one of the smaller members of the Majeerteen clan family.

The scoop my contact shared with me got more real once Deni returned from a short trip to Dubai circa July 13, 2021. In a gathering to which only his kinsmen were invited, Deni dined with campaign money contributors. They pledged to faten Deni’s financial warchest. 

Money as A Political Tool

Ahmed Abdirahaman’s candidacy was sacrificed for a pledge of $250,000 by the Wabeneye business community. This community has lobbied through Deni for Abidirazak Mohamed Omar, himself a Wabeneye. Sources who contacted me informed me that the largest sum of this money is paid by the owners of the Nairobi-based CJs’ upscale chain restaurant. In total, the Wabeneye businessmen allegedly added to Deni’s financial warchest upto $500,000. This is not surprising for Somalia; its corruption index in World transparency is the lowest score.  Cash flow certainly into the politics of Somalia is a mark of its rentier patronage based state

Unaware of the money pumped into this seat, Ahmed Abdirahman carried his campaign. He conducted a clean, robust, and a grass-root campaign inside Kismayo; he succeeded to create an election [positive] buzz never seen before in Kismayo. Ahmed’s early campaigning made Deni frantic. In return, Deni’s pressure over Moadobe grew as the selection date approached with Ahmed Abdirahman’s campaign becoming sensational. In the end, Madobe capitulated under intense Deni pressure.

What happened to Modobe?  All along, Madobe has been telling Ahmed Abdirahman and his team that his community deserves the seat. As time of the selection approached, however, Madobe floated a proposal that he would list both Ahmed Abdirahman and Deni’s protégé as candidates. Even then, Ahmed Abdirahman believed he would win based on his work and name recognition. fUnfortunately, Madobe broke down under the pressure of Deni. 

Multiple sources close to Madobe told me that “president Deni threw all he has on Madobe.” In Somali parlance, “Cumaamada ayuu Deni ku tuuray,” which when translated reads this: Deni used all his political weight on Madobe to get his wishes. But, what did Madobe get out of this decision except a tarnished image, which eroded his earlier moniker of the “adult in the house.” 

What is sad in all this is that once seated, no one in Jubaland expects Abdirazak, who literally bought the seat, to roll up his sleeves and do the mundane legislative job in Mogadishu. He would rather be another Puntlander doing his businesses in East Africa but enjoy the privileges of a senate seat, reporting to duty only during vote casting.

But the big calculation on Deni is to  put more senate seats in the hands of Puntland. So far, it has 12 seats as opposed to other states with only eight seats. Call this George Orwell’s Animal Farm! 

Donald Horowitz, in his seminal study “Ethnic Groups in Conflict,” argued that rarely do political competition totally eliminate one group in favor of another. (Horwitz, 1985). However, in light of the runaway greed of Puntland politicians (aggressive search for more power to the elimination of others), one suspects that Horowitz would most likely consider this Somali example perhaps as an aberration. 

One can only hope that the current inequity enjoyed by Puntland and its cunning politicians do not succeed in throwing us back to the inequities of the 1960s, where some clans had total monopoly on power and representation.

In the end, a fair competition was denied to the man who served Jubaland for five years in favor of an absentee businessman whose last visit to Kismanyo was a brief stopover several years ago. The net effect is Puntland got one more senate seat; Deni got $500,000, but Madobe ended up with a tarnished image of “the subservient leader.” 

Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.

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