Al-Shabaab terror merchants have taken responsibility for an attack on a Kismayu hotel, even as the aftermath directly becomes political.
Leaving behind charred sinks, bullet-riddled walls and tables, the suicide bomber and gunmen killed at least 26 people and injured 56 others.
Jubbaland State President Ahmed Islam Madobe told journalists that 10 foreigners, including three Kenyans, were among the dead, reflecting the rising attraction of a city that was only eight years ago under the control of extremists.
One Canadian, a Briton, two Americans and three Tanzanians also died in the As-Asey Hotel attack, local outlets said, quoting Madobe.
But the raid is something Madobe would least expect at a time he is striving to warm up relations with Mogadishu, amid accusations of high handedness.
On Friday, troop contributing countries to the African Union Mission in Somalia met in Nairobi where they declared focus on the “nexus” between politics and security and encouraging federal states to work with Mogadishu to rebuild institutions.
A free and fair election in Jubbaland could be one of those institutions.
“The Political Consultative meeting stressed the imperative for greater consideration of internal and external dynamics that affect the peace and stability of Somalia and the region with the view to evolving appropriate response measures,” a dispatch after the meeting chaired by Kenyan Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma said.
Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti have contributed soldiers to the 22,000-troop Amisom Force, which plans gradual withdrawal by the end of 2020.
Troop contributing countries said the withdrawal, from Somalia would respect the “sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity of Somalia”.
In power technically since 2013, although formally elected in 2015, Madobe’s Ras Kamboni brigade had allied with the Kenya Defence Forces to retake Kismayu from al-Shabaab in October 2012.
Since then, the city has been relatively safe with some occasional mines or a lose suicide attacker letting off.
He is now preparing for re-election on August 19.
Madobe has been running local campaigns on a pledge to stabilise the entire Jubbaland, including the central regions where Shabaab fighters still run the show.
During his time, he has also had foreign allies, maintained an alliance with Kenya and Ethiopia and improved trade in Kismayu.
The attack, however, could roil everything.
“It has happened at the critical time of his political career and the election in Jubbaland is round the corner. It could damage his image,” Abdiwahab Sheikh, a Somali politics analyst, said.
Among the dead were the founder of online English station Integration TV Hodan Nalayeh and her husband.
Nalayeh dedicated her time to marketing the positive side of Somalia, away from the usual war, poverty and hunger.
“She truly made a difference in the narrative about Somalia. Her legacy of showcasing the positive things about our nation lives on,” Somali Presidency spokesman Abdinur Mohammed Ahmed said.
Also killed were journalists for the Somali Broadcasting Service, prominent activists, hotel employees and humanitarian workers.
Yet even as Madobe updated the world on the situation, some incensed Somalis accused him of masterminding the deadly attack to scare opponents.
Due to the security situation, a special college selected by elders from every clan will elect local lawmakers and the president.
Madobe has promised to ensure universal suffrage when the vote is held again in 2023.
But he needs to first skip the hurdle.
Kenyan officials say the focus in Jubbaland after the August election should be on long-term goals like development, reconciliation and institution building.
But Madobe’s opponents, who include former Somalia Information minister Abdullahi Ciilmooge Hirsi and his former ally Sheikh Dahir, both from the president’s Ogaden clan, say he remains a divisive figure.
Others include new entrants Abdullahi Fartaag and Abdallah Ahmed Ibrahim.