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Somalia, Kenya row: What is at stake?

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The relationship between Somalia and Kenya continues to deteriorate, each feeling undermined by the other.

Somalia accuses Kenya of meddling in its internal affairs and warned Nairobi to stop its encroachment in the border areas. Kenya denied the claims as “baseless and invalid”.

On its part, Kenya has accused Somalia of violating its territorial integrity when fighting between a militia group allied to Abdirashid Janan, minister of security in Jubbaland, a regional administration in southern Somalia and Somali National Army in the border town of Buula Hawa spilled into Mandera town on the Kenyan side last week, forcing hundreds of Mandera residents to flee. Somalia blamed Kenya for backing the militia and harbouring Janan.

President Mohamed Farmajo and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta spoke by phone and agreed to deescalate the situation, work together to improve border security, and form a joint committee to strengthen diplomatic and trade ties.

Here are issues that are threatening ties between the two neighbours.

Maritime dispute

The two neighbours are engaged in a border dispute in the Indian Ocean, a 100 square kilometres triangle rich in oil and gas.

Kenya has accused Somalia of auctioning part of its oil blocks in the Indian Ocean to Western oil firms during an oil conference in London in February 2019.

Somalia denied Kenya’s allegations, and said the conference was meant to present the results of seismic surveys and showcase possible locations in the country where oil reserves can be extracted in the future.

After the London event, Kenya ordered Somalia’s ambassador in Nairobi to leave the country and recalled its ambassador in Mogadishu.

In 2014, Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Nairobi of encroaching part of its territory. Kenya tried to persuade Somalia to withdraw the case from the ICJ and settle the dispute of the court, but Somalia rejected Kenya’s plea.

Somalia wants the maritime boundary to run southeast as an extension of the land border while Kenya says the border should run eastwards following the line of latitude. The ICJ is expected to deliver a judgment later this year.

The case was to be heard in September initially, but was postponed to November following a request by Kenya. The ICJ may also review another request made by Kenya for a 12-month delay of the public hearing.

Jubbaland

Kenya has troops in Somalia under the African Union Mission stationed in Jubbaland. Nairobi backs Jubbaland regional government led by Ahmed Mohamed Islam, also known as Madobe, because Kenya wants Jubbaland to acts as a buffer zone against al Shabab militants and for its regional interests. Despite the ‘buffer zone,’ al Shabab carries out deadly attacks inside Kenya.

In August 2019, Jubbaland held a controversial election in which Madobe was declared the winner. President Farmajo’s administration rejected the result, saying the election was not credible. Kenya backed Madobe’s election and sent delegation to Kismayu during his inauguration.

Somalia wants Kenya to stop interfering in its internal affairs, both at state and national levels. Jubbaland is one of Somalia’s federal member states.

Fugitive minister

Somalia is accusing Kenya of harbouring Jubbaland security minister Abdirashid Janan, who escaped from a Mogadishu prison in January.

Mogadishu accuses Janan of committing grave human rights violations and killing civilians in Gedo province, southwest Somalia. Janan was held for months and was awaiting trial. He is believed to be in Mandera

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House leadership: Duale’s shoes too big to fill

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Arguably, Aden Duale is the second most powerful person in Kenya today. Duale’s status stems from his office as the National Assembly majority leader.

The leader of the ruling Jubilee party dominates the floor of the National Assembly. He is the sponsor of all Government Bills.

Duale, who is also the Garissa Township member of parliament, plays a central role both in crafting major bills and in shepherding them through the legislative process from beginning to end, cultivating carefully the expectation that he is responsible for setting the House agenda and for regulating the ability of his colleagues to participate in the decision-making process by offering amendments.

Duale’s hold of this position is uncetain as Jubilee began a process to remove allies of Deputy President William Ruto from parliamentary leadership. His colleague in the Senate Kipchumba Murkomen has been removed from his position for allegedly violating party norms. The Senate Majority Chief Whip and the deputy speaker were also replaced. A number of senators allied to Ruto were also removed from committees membership.

Now, Jubilee is coming for Ruto allies in the National Assembly. Majority Chief Whip Benjamin Washiali and his Deputy will be removed. But it is unclear whether Duale, seen as a Ruto supporter, will lose his position which he held since the post was introduced in 2013.

There is already a good deal of mumbling about who will replace Duale should he be removed and what they will do as the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly.

Unlike Tangatanga, a group of MPs backing Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid, Duale openly supports the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and advocates for the creation of a prime minister’s position.

Duale argues that the president’s and Raila Odinga’s initiative will cure the political dominance of the presidential seat by the big tribes. He says ‘Raila and I are political bed fellows. I support it because it will give equal opportunities to all the communities in the country to have a share of leadership positions.’

Some believe the position will go to Northeastern region, though not a guarantee. But who can replace the Garissa Township member of parliament?

It takes something very special to be the Majority Leader of a ruling party, and it is not that being just a lawmaker fills the bill.

Just what qualities mark a man as fit for the leadership of the leader of a ruling party in Kenya’s National Assembly are undefined. But the imprecision of the standards in no way lessens the intensity of the belief that there are standards to be maintained.

Whether Duale survives the Jubilee purge or not, he will remain the greatest leader the National Assembly has ever seen, his portrait could adorn the House reception room. He will be one of the outstanding men and women in the history of the Kenyan parliament.

Duale is a man of eloquence, who can supply the oratorical gloss to finished legislation during floor debate, and has the legal skills that make him a superb craftsman behind committee doors. Duale has excelled at protecting government interest. That is why, despite seen as a Ruto ally, he has earned praise from State House for delivering on any assignment the president has given him in the House.

What determines which member of parliament to become a party leader in the National Assembly?

Energy, eloquence, wit, good humor, intelligence, frankness, honor—all these are worthy qualities, esteemed by the holder of the office of the Majority Leader. None of the members of the National Assembly from Northeastern region possess half of these.

These virtues describe the special qualities that make a lawmaker an excellent leader in the House.

The position of the Majority Leader is a national one. The holder serves his conception of the national interest. It takes time to develop influence in the parliament and a member’s greatness is measured by the reach of his influence.

The instinct or the drive in some members that takes them to the heart of the issues of their time is a quality that anyone aspiring to be a leader in the House should have. Since 2013, Duale engaged himself publicly in all the major debates.

Duale owes much of his influence to the simple fact that he studies more intensively and knows more intimately the provisions of the bills he is debating than the vast majority of his colleagues. Bringing in a new Majority Leader will delay government agenda in the House, as the new office bearer will need much time to familiarise.

The Garissa Township MP has not only achieved great reputations as spokesman for his region, but also developed national and global perspectives.

He has shown a breadth of interest and refused to be bound by the parochial concern of one’s own Constituency or county. A leader in the House should see beyond the borders of his own constituency.

Some will come forward to try to take over Duale’s job simply because they have nothing but their names to recommend them.

Seniority, talent, diligence, breadth of vision and a grasp of major issues will enable a lawmaker to contribute his or her full share to the making of national policy.

Although most of the members of parliament from this region do not know why they are in parliament, contributing almost nothing on the floor of the House, there are a few men and women of ability who have achieved distinction and performed well at parliamentary committee levels such as foreign, accounts and legal. But this alone is not enough to lead a major party in its legislative aganda.

 

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The tragedy of William Ruto

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In 2013, William Ruto joined the government as an equal partner and became Kenya’s Deputy President as an established politician and is departing both as an accomplice and a victim.

In 2020, he is being forced out of Jubilee, the party he wholeheartedly helped build to make it look like a national party. But what matters is the reason behind the creation of Jubilee as a stand-alone party. Previously, Jubilee was a coalition of The National Alliance (TNA) and the United Republican Party (URP) and Ruto ran a coalition government with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The coalition governed between April 2013 and August 2017. In 2016, one year before the presidential election, Ruto was convinced to dissolve his URP party and join TNA and other small parties to form Jubilee party. That day was the beginning of the process to block him from succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The buccaneer Sugoi kid who became a member of parliament in 1997, was eager to make a mark on politics, but the harsh reality is that he will be remembered for abandoning the bulk of his deputy-presidential duties to concentrate en election 10 years away, and behaving as a co-president.

Ruto’s political obituary was written on March 9 2018 when President Kenyatta and former premier Raila Odinga signed a deal to work together and initiated a constitutional change process. Two years later, on May 11 2020, it was reaffirmed when Ruto’s closest allies were removed from the Senate leadership after Jubilee and KANU – a party led by Gideon Moi, Ruto’s rival, signed a coalition agreement.

Following Jubilee-KANU deal, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), was removed and replaced with Senator Samuel Poghishio of KANU (West Pokot), and Susan Kihiga (Nakuru) was axed as Senator Irungu Kingata (Murang’a) took her position as the Senate Majority Whip. Jubilee is now Uhuru Kenyatta’s.

Ruto established himself as Rift Valley political kingpin, then a national figure. In 2016, he turned a blind eye to the dissolution of his party. Now he must be regretting that decision.

There has hardly been anyone visible in Jubilee than Ruto, who believed the party will help him ascend to power in 2022, and seemed duty-bound to deliver on promises Jubilee made to voters, crisscrossing the country, seemingly selling the government agenda; boosting the economy, constructing roads, uniting Kenyans, but in reality campaigning for the next election and trying to wrestle support from Mr Odinga in Western and Coastal regions that traditionally backed the former prime minister. He even appeared on international media on behalf of Jubilee insisting his party won the 2017 presidential election, and labelling Mr Odinga as a ‘serial loser who will not accept the will of the people.’

The shortgun marriage between President Kenyatta and Ruto was a success in their first term in office. They built the strongest political alliance Kenya has ever seen. The president’s allies avoided criticising Ruto even when they felt he was undermining his boss because they needed his support in the following election, but hell broke loose after the March 9 handshake. 

Ruto has been the face of opposition to the initiative championed by President Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga. He feared the handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga represented an existential threat to his path to State House. The handshake was a crisis for Mr Ruto – it complicated his political future. The ‘hustler’ as he calls himself, who carved his niche in Jubilee, is now partyless and an outsider within his own government.

Ruto felt the unity between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga threatened the existence of Jubilee and made his relationship with the president complex, shattering his dreams of becoming Kenya’s next president.

From the moment he became a member of parliament, a cabinet minister and, ultimately, a deputy president, Ruto had his sight on State House.

In an interview in 2009, he was asked whether he wants to be president. “Why would I be in politics if I do not want to be a president,” he responded.

By choosing to be a deputy president, Ruto chose the wrong path to State House. Historically, deputy presidents don’t succeed their boss. Ruto could become president, but not in 2022.

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Politics

Who belongs in Somalia?

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Somalia is believed to be a homogenous ethnic group, sharing the same language, culture, religion, and tracing their roots to a common ancestor.

Other groups do exist, but their existence has always been downplayed, and they have been discriminated against.

This month, local authorities in Somalia’s South West state tried to stop Radio Barawe from broadcasting in Baravanese, a dialect spoken by the  Barawe people.

The Barawani people are multi-racialcomfederatiin of clans the southern coast of Somalia, mainly in the Port town of Barawe, which is one the most diverse place in Somalia.

They are some of the most maginalised communities, and now, authorities tried to rob them of their language, which is part of their culture. After social media backlash, officials backed down.

In 2018, a man was burned to death in Mogadishu for belonging to the “wrong clan.” Ahmed Salat was burned alive after his nephew married a woman from one of Somalia’s major clans.

Salat, who belonged to a minority clan, “Jareerweyn”, was killed because the killers, who were relatives of the bride, felt their clan was “superior” to Jareerweyn and therefore, “the wedding should never have happened.”

A few days later, a Somali member of parliament from the Jareerweyn clan narrated his ordeal under the hands of immigration officers at Mogadishu airport on the floor of the House. He was mistreated because of his physical appearance and the texture of his hair.

“I arrived at the Mogadishu airport with my diplomatic passport. The immigration officers scrutinised me and talked to each other saying ‘this Ugandan has a Somali diplomatic passport’. The officers ordered I pay $50,” Mohamed Nur said.

“They were addressing me in English but I ignored them. Finally, I answered them in Somali and explained who I was … Majority of Somalis are ignorant of the existence of the Somali Bantu community who are nationals of this country.”

Somali societies disapprove of marriages between members of the “Jareerweyn” community and other Somali clans. Salat’s nephew tried to break that tradition, and the result was the killing of his paternal uncle.

“If we can marry white women in America I don’t understand why our brothers here in Somalia don’t allow us to marry from other clans … Discrimination thrives in Somalia. Let’s be civilised and let’s not allow discrimination in our country,” the lawmaker said.

Nur also called for an end to the discrimination against the Bantu community. The Jarerweyn are also referred to as Somali-Bantu because they are the descendants of a group of Bantu people who were taken to Somalia as slaves by Arab slave lords about two centuries ago.

They speak the Somali language and are Muslims. But they are treated differently because of the colour of their skin and texture of the hair.

The Somali-Bantu, comprising of Gosha, Shabelle, Shidle and Boni – live in the Lower Jubba and Shabelle valley in the south of the country and mostly practice farming, numbering one million, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Bantu communities continue to face daily discrimination, including verbal abuse by members of other Somali clans. They are sometimes referred to as ‘adoon’, a Somali term for slave. This is mainly due to their differing physical characteristics and ancestry from the Cushitic-origin majority of Somalia.

The marginalisation of the Somali Bantu community is primarily based on ethno-racial factors, unlike the marginalization of the Madhiban and other Somali-origin minorities which is primarily based on their status as a socially-constructed caste.

Bantu were put to work as unpaid labourers on southern agricultural farms that exported items like sorghum and sesame oil to the Middle East and elsewhere. They also worked as livestock herders, domestic servants, concubines and artisans. Some were attached to local Somali family groups, though many lived in separate Bantu settlements.

Anti-discrimination measures under President Siyad Barre’s rule opened up state education and state employment, and gave some social recognition and political representation to Bantu and other minorities.

While continuing to do work and practice crafts rejected by pastoralists, Bantu also developed new skills within their communities and moved into many modern artisan occupations, notably in mechanical engineering; such as vehicle and boat repairing. Salat was killed in his garage where he was working at the time. They were also engaged in carpentry, woodcarving, building, masonry and house painting.

Politically, Somalia’s minority clans remain discriminated against. The country’s politics is currently clan-based where the four major clans share political seats in a system known as 4.5. The 0.5 represents smaller clans including the Bantu.

The term “Jareer” is a derogatory word used by Somalis to refer to “people with hard hair.” The Bantu groups also adopted the term positively as the preferred Somali-language term of self-description. In the 1990s, the term Bantu gained wider currency and became an equally acceptable ascription.

Al Shabab has also targeted Bantu communities because of their cultural practices. In 2010, the National Somali Bantu Project (NSBP), an organisation that advocates for the rights of the Bantu community, reported that several Bantu people were killed for attending a traditional service in the Lower Juba region by al Shabab. The NSBP also reported the desecration of Bantu graves and forced compliance of Bantu Sheikhs with al Shabab ideology, as well as numerous cultural attacks on Bantu dancing, the use of traditional medicine and the imposition of linguistic limitations including being forced to adopt Arabic names. Al Shabab also recruited Bantu children as soldiers.

Since the collapse of the last effective central government in 1991, the United States has resettled tens of thousands of Bantus.

The Somali government needs to work towards eradicating the discrimination against a group of its citizens by creating anti-discrimination laws, and the Somali society need to rethink and accept these people as part of them.

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