The Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), which invaded southern Somalia last October, recently achieved one of their major goals, capturing the port city of Kismayo (map). Taking Kismayo represents a military, political, and economic loss for the rebel group al Shabab. Kismayo was al Shabab’s last major urban stronghold, and this defeat leaves them in search of places to regroup. In the meantime, Somali government forces have arrived to take control of the city. Several explosions have occurred, at least one of them claimed by Al Shabab, but KDF and Somali soldiers appear to have imposed a preliminary kind of order.
Despite the military triumph for the KDF and the Somali government, voices from various sides are warning that the political battle for Kismayo is only beginning.
Bitter clan rivalry is expected to hamper the creation of a new administration needed to run the city and port, say residents.
“We want peace, not clan feuds and a cause for al-Shabab’s return,” said Muhummed Abdi, an elder in Kismayo who spoke to The Associated Press by phone.
The clan rivalry centers on control of revenues from the port, which is one of Somalia’s most lucrative business hubs.
“The situation of Kismayo has always been a difficult one and the clan rivalry will be further exacerbated by alleged siding by foreign troops with one of the clans in the city,” Mohamed Sheikh Abdi, a Somali political analyst says. “Only an inclusive administration will dictate the future of Kismayo. Also if Kenya, with its history with Somalis, does not leave, I think they will just add more fuel to the fire already raging Kismayo” he said.
Dr. Ken Menkhaus makes similar points:
Since the onset of state collapse and civil war in 1991, Kismayo has been Somalia’s Sarajevo — a chronically contested city, at times half-emptied by armed conflict, at other times bloated with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. It has changed hands many times over the past two decades but has always been in the control of warlords or jihadists and has never enjoyed a day of good governance. Rival Somali clans in Jubbaland — the region of southern Somalia where Kismayo is located — have never been able to agree on how to share the city and have repeatedly fought over it. Even al-Shabab suffered an internal armed battle over control of the seaport in 2008. Thanks to years of political violence, Kismayo has a well-earned reputation as the most difficult and dangerous place for aid agencies to operate in all of Somalia.
Menkhaus goes on to underline the important of Kismayo and the impact of its loss on al Shabab. He discusses several scenarios for Kismayo’s future, including the role of Kenya and Somalia’s new government.
The issue of how and whether the government will truly rule recaptured areas has loomed large since the African Union Mission in Somalia began to dislodge Al Shabab forces from Mogadishu, Afgoye, and elsewhere. Establishing a sustainable peace in Kismayo will be a serious test for the new government of Somalia, and an indication of whether the country is headed for a period of stronger central control or another phase of fragmentation.