Who will Kenya back in the elections in the Somali federal state of Jubbaland this August?
The Foreign Affairs Ministry says Kenya’s policy remains “to work with Mogadishu and ensure the stability of Somalia”.
Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau told the Nation that Kenya worked with Jubbaland President Sheikh Islam Madobe, then as leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, because there was a common enemy: al-Shabaab.
“The taking of Kismayu was part of the global action welcomed by the Somali government to try and bring this into the ambit of the federal state,” Kamau said.
“The fact that we worked with a local state operator is to be expected because obviously you work with available positive forces in order to eliminate the negative forces creating problems for the region and the entire Somalia.”
The official position is to work with Somali government and federal state for the general stability of Somalia, he said.
But what legacy will Kenya Defence Forces leave once its withdrawal under the arrangement of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is complete?
In its updated concept of operations, Amisom wants to reduce ground combat, gradually withdraw and focus on strengthening the Somali National Army by the end of 2020.
Jubbaland, the region in Somalia closest to the border with Kenya, has been under Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe since 2013.
Madobe has been Kenya’s ally in war against al-Shabaab and cooperated with the KDF as it captured Kismayu and other towns.
When his election came up in 2013, Kenya and Ethiopia covertly supported him, ostensibly to sustain the momentum of al-Shabaab.
The focus of the August election, officials say, is on long-term goals like development, reconciliation and institution building.
And as the date approaches, Kenya has been working on a legacy proposal which would see Nairobi move from a combat troop contributor to a supporter of institution building.
The idea, a diplomat associated with the matter said, is to help Somalis build institutions that can withstand the departure of leaders.
Several candidates have shown interest and more are expected to do so in an election that could also define the impact of KDF.
They include former Somalia Information minister Abdullahi Ciilmooge Hirsi and former Madobe ally Sheikh Dahir, both from Madobe’s Ogaden clan.
Most have been critical of Madobe’s administration.
But will focus on development, rather than security tilt the poll? Does it mean backing another candidate?
Madobe is strong, has military connections, resources and is influential. The outsider in the race is former public finance manager Abdirazak Fartaag, from the Marehan sub-clan of Ogaden.
Madobe has had problems with other clans and has been trying to rectify his lukewarm ties with Mogadishu.
He visited President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo recently to seek his support.
Somalia politics is influenced by the country’s main clans: Darood/Ogaden, Hawiye, Diir, Rahanweyn and others in a system colloquially known as ‘4.5’ to ensure arranged representation.
Fartaag is a political novice though his father was a senator. Because of his frequent criticism of Somalia’s finance management, he has come out as one to inject accountability in Jubbaland's administration.
Fartaag would not confirm or deny his candidacy.
“I will make a decision in the coming three or four weeks,” he told the Nation.
'CONFLICT OF LOYALTY'
Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdi of the Horn of Africa think-tank SouthLink Consultants said Madobe suffers from “conflict of loyalty” despite enjoying Kenya’s backing.
“The rest of the clans are against him and they believe he is getting undue support from Kenya and others. If polls are free and fair, he will lose,” Abdiwahab said.
Even if Fartaag is backed by Kenya, Ethiopia and western countries, he will be attempting to defeat clan politics in Somalia.
Clans often send delegates to choose MPs who then elect state presidents.
Jubbaland is also under watch from Kenya because the row between Nairobi and Mogadishu touches the region.
Credited with improved trade in Kismayu, Madobe’s administration has been criticised for corruption and high-handedness.
His clan is accused of alienating others from the government and seizing all resources.
“Kenya’s long-term interest should be the guiding principle. You don’t want hostile people taking over leadership,” Prof Macharia Munene, an analyst said.
“You can’t change a policy abruptly. You need to examine why we went there and it is prudent to re-evaluate that in long-term goals,” he added.
On Wednesday, a senior Somali government official said Madobe and Farmaajo have resolved their differences.
“The two agreed to work together,” he said.