Conflict in Somalia’s volatile southern Jubaland region has pitted rival clans, central government and the competing interests of neighbouring nations against one other.
Many eye the economic, strategic and political profits of the region, which includes a lucrative charcoal industry, fertile farmland along the Juba river as well as potential off-shore oil and gas deposits.
Bordering Kenya to the west and Ethiopia to the north, the region contains three districts: Middle and Lower Juba and Gedo, with the main city the key port of Kismayo.
It is also one of the most diverse regions in terms of Somali clans — with the Ogadeni, Marehan and Harti all present, almost all of them with well-armed militia forces.
Kismayo has changed hands more than a dozen times since the collapse of central government in 1991.
Former Islamist chief Ahmed Madobe, commander of the powerful Ras Kamboni milita from the Ogadeni clan, declared himself “president” of Jubaland in May after a conference of some 500 elders and local leaders.
Several others, including former Somali defence minister Barre Hirale from the rival Marehan clan, have also said they too are “president”.
Neither the title nor the region itself is recognised by the weak central government in Mogadishu.
Jubaland is only one of several Somali regions to oppose central control, from fiercely independent Somaliland along the Gulf of Aden, to Puntland in the northeast, which recognises a federal government but says that it has no role in its internal affairs.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, who fled Kismayo ahead of invading Kenyan troops alongside Madobe’s forces in 2012, remain in control of swathes of countryside in the region.
Ethiopia is also a key regional player, with the landlocked nation eyeing Kismayo as another possible route to the sea.
Addis Ababa is wary of Madobe, who hails from the same Ogadeni clan as rebels fighting inside Ethiopia’s ethnic Somali Ogaden region.
Kenya wants a security buffer zone to protect its valuable tourism industry, a proposed major port near the border with Somalia at Lamu, and hopes of offshore oil and gas finds.
It also hopes stability in southern Somalia would let it send back the half a million Somali refugees it currently hosts.
Kenya previously backed former Somali defence minister and French-educated academic Mohamed Abdi Mohamed — also known as Gandhi — to control the region, then dubbed “Azania”.