As the Jubbaland election reaches the homestretch, the eight-year reign of Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, Kenya’s ally in the war against al-Shabaab, could end following spirited campaigns of Abdinasir Seraar, his former lieutenant at the Ras Kamboni Brigade.
The August 21 poll will be a test to Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia as well as Americans whose presence in Somalia has increased.
The campaigns of Seraar, a co-founder of the Ras Kamboni Brigade and ex-spokesperson of Jubbaland, have unsettled his former comrade-in-arms.
In a state where the most heavily armed man controls the instruments of power, Seraar who runs a militia that has more than 1,000 men is braving the fight against Madobe, who also has a private army and enjoys the protection of Kenya Defence Forces.
To show his muscle, Madobe alias Blackie, “banned” opponents from campaigning in Kismayu until Seraar unleashed his militia and offered them protection.
Seraar says Madobe ignores the rule of law, oppresses citizens and undermines the Somali National Army.
Other presidential hopefuls are the Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation in the Federal government Mohamed Omar and Mohamed Dahir Marsheye who once worked with the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Madobe also faces opposition from federal president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo.
Farmaajo has persuaded members of his Marehan clan, the majority in Jubbaland, not to vie for the presidency.
Local analysts say the move by Farmaajo to let Ogadens “fight among themselves” has made Madobe’s position weak.
Mohamed Hashi, a top Marehan elder, has vowed to work for Madobe’s downfall.
Early this month, Jubbaland elders chairman Hussein Mahamud Qorane accused the president of failing to protect the state from Shabaab militants.
Garad Ali Garaad, another influential elder, said a regime change is necessary “in order to open Jubbaland to development”.
The administration of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has withdrawn its backing for Madobe. Ethiopia is no longer interested in having warlords in influential positions in Somalia.
Madobe is the only remaining warlords still heading a regional government. The rest were either removed from power or lost elections in Puntland, Baidoa, Galmudug and Hiran.
Seraar, Omar and Marsheye are members of the Auliyhan sub-clan, which spreads into Garissa in Kenya.
There was more controversy last week when Madobe suspended co-operation with Mogadishu.
He accused the federal government and Farmaajo of plotting to manipulate the elections.
In Mogadishu itself, the federal government said it would not accept the list of elders published by the Jubbaland Electoral Commission “since it includes people not cleared by security agencies”.
In the Jubbaland voting, the commission usually selects clan elders who make up a council.
Those selected are supposed to pick candidates for the 75 parliamentary slots. The elders are to nominate three people per post using criteria yet to be published.
After this, the elders will forward the 225 names to the commission which will then pick one to form the 75-member assembly.
The first business of parliament is to elect a Speaker who will then officiate the election of Jubbaland president.
Mogadishu says Madobe has selected a team that is likely to favour him.
The electoral agency threw a jibe at the federal government after it released rules to be followed during the election. It included a clause which bars people with dual nationality or are married to foreigners from contesting.
Farmaajo holds American and Somali citizenships while his PM Hassan Khaire is a Somali and Norwegian passport holder.
According to the rules, male contenders are to pay a $30,000 (Sh3 million) fee and $15,000 (Sh1.5 million) for women.