Somalia’s state of Jubbaland on Tuesday evening shut down its main airport in Kismayu, ahead of the scheduled local presidential elections due Thursday.
The decision means no aircraft will be allowed to land at the facility until after the vote. The authorities indicated the airport will reopen on Friday August 23, possibly locking out any more delegations that had planned to tour.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday evening, Jubbaland’s vice president, Mohamud Sayid Aden, said the move was intended to lock out those planning to interfere in the polls.
“We have shut down all entry points to Kismayu to prevent the Somali government from messing up the election in Jubbaland,” he said.
He intimated that the Somali federal government was using all means to throw the presidential election in Jubaland into disarray, following reports of secret deployment of Ethiopia soldiers to disrupt elections, from diplomatic sources.
The move comes only three days after Mogadishu stated that it would not recognise the elections, which according to it, had gone against the national constitution, by refusing to register the traditional elders with the interior ministry.
Tension has escalated in the recent days in the area, resulting in the move by the electoral commission in Jubbaland to postpone the elections several times, with pressure from the international community asking for a single acceptable process.
However, there are concerns the stalemate in Jubbaland, a fundamental region for war against terrorism, could spark a wider dispute between the neighbouring countries, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Both Kenya and Ethiopia have deployed peacekeeping troops in Jubbaland, raising stakes on the outcome of Thursday’s presidential election.
The Kenyan government has been subtly drumming up support for the re-election of Sheikh Ahmed Islam Mohamed Madobe, the incumbent president, who has led the state for more than eight years, mainly for security concerns.
On the other hand, Ethiopia and Eritrea, which form the so called Cushitic axis, are bent on having a central government.
Madobe was born in the central region of Somalia and belongs to the Ogaden sub-clan of the Darood. He later moved to Jubbaland following sojourns in Saudi Arabia where he studied Islamic philosophy.
With his Ras Kamboni Brigade which opposed the al-Shabaab militant group, he started working closely with Kenya Defence Forces in the war against terrorism. In 2012, they defeated Shabaab in Kismayu, opening up a lucrative port.
But Madobe’s ascent to power was initially mired in clan bickering with initial interference from Ethiopia and the then federal government under Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. He would be elected two years later, having been interim president since 2013, and following a deal between clans which was later endorsed by Mogadishu.
In this election, Mr Mohamud has endorsed the local electoral commission which was formed by Madobe to conduct elections, indicating an approval for Madobe himself.
The actual list of candidates to contest will be published sometime before the polls open in Kismayu. 74 members of the local legislative assembly will vote for the president in a secret ballot.