How Kenya’s Greed for Oil is Plunging Somalia Back into Civil War!


Had the recent events in Kismayo been scenes in a thriller film, critics would have accused the director of political naivety and preposterousness.  In the last week of May, 2013 Kenya Defense Forces stationed in Kismayo denied a high-level government delegation led by Somalia’s Defense Minister Abdihakim Fiqi entry to Kismayo on grounds that Fiqi and his entourage failed to contact with the Kenya-backed, self-proclaimed “Jubbaland” authorities which the Federal Government considers unconstitutional. After having spent three days in a tent at the airport, the ministers and other dignitaries were allowed entry into the city due to excessive pressure from the leaders of the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa. Exactly one week later, in order to exert absolute control over Kismayo and frustrate government-led consultation process with the genuine local community leaders, the Raskamboni militiamen pre-emptively attacked local politicians who had meetings with Fiqi and other federal MPs. The attack later morphed into a bloody street gun battle that claimed dozens of lives. With the help of Kenya Defense Forces, the Raskamboni militiamen were eventually able to oust all government minsters and MPs. All throughout these days, leaders of the militiamen, on one hand boasted of their military might, on the other hand, hurled insults and absurd accusations against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, “Hassan Ulusow, their preferred name”, minister Fiqi and other federal MPs. As unbelievable as it may sound, these events are only the tip of the iceberg.


The strained diplomatic relations between Kenya and Somalia go back to the colonial history of both countries. In early 1960s, Britain rewarded the Somali-inhabited Northern Frontier District (now North Eastern Province of Kenya) to Kenya despite the local population’s desire to be part of independent Somalia Republic. After years of deadly border dispute, Prime Minister Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal of Somalia and President Kenyatta of Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding that brought about a ceasefire in October, 1967.  Despite Siad Barre’s annulment of the MoU, and the absence of official recognition on the part of Somalia, the chronic civil war in Somalia offered Kenya two decades of undisputed control over the region which, by any measure, represents a significant political gain.

Kenya also benefitted economically from Somalia’s descent into a state of anarchy. Over the last two decades, Somali businesspeople injected millions of dollars of investments into Kenya’s economy. Almost all non-governmental organizations, UN or otherwise, with operations in Somalia were run from Nairobi-based regional offices. These Somali investors and the international NGOs created much-needed jobs for Kenyan citizens. In additional to that, Kenya generates around $300 million a year from exporting khat to the unregulated lucrative market in Somalia.

As if all of these political and economic gains were not enough, Kenya decided to appropriate almost 200 nautical miles of Somalia’s resource-rich waters in order to authorize oil exploration contracts for European energy firms in Somali maritime concessions. In April, 2009 according to local and international media, Kenya bribed several former TFG ministers especially Abdirahman Abdishakur and Abdirahman Haji Aden Ibbi into signing an infamous Memorandum of Understanding which would have extended Kenyan maritime borders eastward by at least 45° line of latitude. Mounting public outrage over the MoU led the Transitional Federal Parliament to unanimously reject it.

Due to the economic importance of the oil-rich territorial waters, Kenya has decided utilize all diplomatic and military tools at its disposal to coerce the government of Somalia into signing a legal settlement in which Somalia would write off a chunk of resource-rich territorial waters. One needs to only reflect upon the events in the lead up to Kenyan military intervention in southern Somalia and subsequent controversies surrounding the status of Kismayo to make sense of the fact that Kenya is carrying out a destructive three-point plan to this end: revitalization of clan-ism, empowerment of a warlord and hostile diplomatic engagement with Somalia at all levels.

Revitalization of Clan-ism

For years, like Ethiopia other countries in the region, Kenya has suffered from brutal Al Qaeda/Al Shabab attacks that hurt its national security. Kenyan media and government officials have long advocated for securing the porous border with Somalia as an effective measure to prevent more deadly terrorist bombings and kidnappings. However, unlike Ethiopia and Uganda, the talk of potential Kenyan military operations against terrorist Al Qaeda affiliate, Alshabaab surfaced only months after the Somali parliament unanimously rejected the controversial MoU and the defeat of Sheikh Ahmed Madobe’s wing of Al Shabaab in Kismayo in early 2010.

Mindful of the nationalist outrage that NFD Somalis showed against the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006, Kenyan leaders succeeded in shrouding the real intentions of the military intervention in Somalia by employing clan-ism. Successful revitalization of clan-ism carries significant advantages for Kenya: it reduces potential nationalist outrage among Somalis in NDF to minimum; secures support from Somali politicians and undermines the legitimacy of the Somali government in Mogadishu. Instead of cooperating with the TFG, Kenya teamed up with Professor Mohamed Abdi Gandi, former defense minister of TFG and a geologist who consulted several energy corporations including French giant Total Corporation. Coincidentally enough, Gandi then self-styled president of Azania, was in need of external force to prop him up. His background in the energy sector, his ambitions to form a tribal state in Jubba area and his previous association with the TFG were seemingly an excellent match for Kenya’s agenda. He helped recruit and train clan militiamen from refugee camps in Kenya in order to support Kenya’s military operations against Al Shabab. During the invasion, Kenya made it clear that their intention was not to support the TFG but create a “buzzer zone” in Jubba, a tool designed to arm-twist Somalia. Revitalization of clan-ism worked well for Kenya. It helped secure support from prominent Somali politicians in Kenya and in Somalia. For instance, Farah Mo’alim and Aden Barre Du’ale, who fiercely opposed Ethiopian invasion in 2006, vehemently came out in support of the Kenyan invasion and “buffer zone” project. Farah Moalim’s remark “Kismayo will not be run from Mogadishu” and Du’le’s “Kenya is there to establish and protect a satellite state in Somalia and will not withdraw troops” are a matter of record. Furthermore, Abdirahman Farole of Puntland publicly applauded the “buffer zone” project and subsequent self-proclamation of “Jubbaland”. As a gesture of gratitude for Farole’s unlimited support, and further consolidation of clan-ism front, Kenya dispatched Garrisa Mayor and other dignitaries to Puntland in January, 2013.

Empowerment of Warlord-ism

As KDF advanced to Kismayo, Kenyan leaders realized how irrelevant Professor Gandi’s skills and personality were to the implementation of their agenda. Given the complexity of Kismayo and implications of clan-ism, Kenya realized that the reality on the ground demanded a warlord, not a double PhD holder. After the fall of Kismayo on September 28, 2012, Kenya installed an interim administration led by Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Ahmed Madobe), a warlord whose track record speaks for itself. Ahmed Madobe joined politics in 2006 as the representative of the Union of Islamic Courts in Kismaayo. He was famous for opposing Abdullahi Yusuf’s government and the constitution. Following the defeat of the UIC at the hands of Ethiopian forces, Ahmed Madobe was taken to Ethiopia as a prisoner of war. In 2009, he was released on Sheikh Sharif’s request and joined the newly expanded parliament. He then defected and joined Hisbul Islam in order to challenge Al Shabab’s rule in Kismayo. Al Shabab defeated him in early 2010, then he joined in Kenya’s efforts to capture Kismayo and create a “buffer zone”. All throughout his political career, Ahmed Madobe has been involved in numerous conflicts, none of which were solved through peaceful means. His preferred method of dealing with conflict is to fight it out in a war: he lost twice, and won twice. He was a definite fit for Kenya’s agenda and changing circumstances on the ground. Kenya’s problem was the unwillingness of Somalia to give up maritime resources; Ahmed Madobe’s problem was a lust for power over Kismayo; the common solution was to establish a friendly state in that area with Ahmed Madobe as the head. However; the missing elements were a local problem and a joint implementation mechanism that has some remote connection to the constitution. Ahmed Madobe’s job was to manufacture one in order to sell the common solution. This required sparking a major conflict with the federal government.

Armed with Kenyan support, lucrative port revenues and strong tribal militiamen, Ahmed Madobe set the conflict ball rolling by lifting UN-ban on charcoal exports from Kismayo port in November, 2012. The federal government criticized the move and urged him to comply with the ban. In response to this, Ahmed Madobe launched a propaganda campaign evidently designed to paint President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud clannish and “anti-Jubba”.  As per the provisional constitution, Somalia has adopted a federal system. Ahmed Madobe’s spokesman and other allied politicians accused the president of a double-standard: granting the people of Bay and Hiiraan the rights to chart their own path while denying similar rights to the people in Kismayo. Ironically enough, governors of these two regions, who with the help of Ethiopian forces, defeated Alshabab in their respective regions, gracefully accepted to hand over power to new governors appointed by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in accordance with the National Stabilization Plan. As all accusations against the government evaporated one after another, Ahmed Madobe’s talking points boiled down to pure clan-ism and overt aggression. The conflict presented to Mr. Madobe an opportunity to redefine the Kismayo crisis as that of “Jubbooyinka and Gedo” implying that he in control of all these three regions albeit not having set a foot outside Kismayo. In fact, Middle Jubba region is still entirely under the control of Al Shabab whereas Gedo, which has never been part of historical Basso Guiba region, is administered by FGS-appointed governor. The broadening of the scope of the crisis was significant as it provided a remotely sufficient constitutional foot-hold for the justification of the right to form a federal state in accordance with article 50 (6) of the constitution which state that, “At least two or more regions can form or unite under one regional state and can be under the new federal system. Two key terms in this clause are “regions” and “unite”. A region as legal entity is represented by a governor who would negotiate terms for unification with neighboring regional governors. In other words, the governor of Lower Jubba, Kismayo may choose to negotiate with Lower Shabelle for unification purposes. Needless to say, the constitution itself is provisional and lacks necessary amendments and a national referendum. The Federal Government of Somalia left no stone unturned in their efforts to bring Kismayo and Raskamboni militiamen into the national fold; however, as Kenya gave him a free hand, Ahmed Madobe grew more intransigent. On May 15, 2013, he crowned himself president of Jubbaland; thus making Kenyan dream of “buffer zone” come true.

Hostile Diplomacy

Along with revitalization of clan-ism and empowerment of a militia leader, Kenya also used hostile diplomacy from the get-go. First, unlike Ethiopia and AMISOM member countries, Kenya did not consult the TFG on matters of intervention, training and equipping Somali militiamen inside Kenya. In fact, Kenya maintained that TFG has approved of the invasion until President Sheikh Sharif released a statement of unequivocal disapproval of the invasion. As for regional and international diplomacy on this matter, Kenya used Mahboub Maalim of IGAD, a Kenyan national of Somali origin, to act on its behalf. Consequently, in the middle of 2012, when the international community was busy forming “post-transitional” government institutions in Mogadishu, Mahboub Maalin was running in Nairobi another parallel project aimed at concocting a post-Alshabab administration for Kismayo. Mr. Maalim has long been a fervent advocate for this cause and to this end, representatives of his organization were always present at most of Raskamboni-sponsored conferences. Due to Maalim’s influence, IGAD remained reluctant to accept Somalia’s right to establish regional administrations within its borders. Hon. Fawsiya Yusuf Haji Adan, foreign minister of Somalia did all in her power to bring IGAD to its senses. Her relentless efforts finally paid off with the release of IGAD communique on May 24th, 2013. Kenya did not back off. Earlier June, 2013, the new Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya Amina Mohamed asked the Somali government to resettle thousands of refugees even though Somalia lacks the capacity to absorb them. Mrs. Amina Mohamed also requested Fawsiya Yusuf Haji Adan of Somalia to re-open discussions on the controversial maritime borders according to Fawsiya Adan’s interview with various Somali media outlets.

After two decades of internecine civil war, Somalia is now coming back strong. Peace and security are taking hold. As one of the unfortunate children who tasted the bitterness of the civil war, Mogadishu does no longer look like where I grew up in. Apart from occasional terrorist bomb blasts, the city is enjoying unprecedented renaissance. It seems that Somalia has found what it has been missing for two decades: clean and competent leadership with a solid vision for the future. Unfortunately, Kenya’s revitalization of clan-ism, warlord-ism as well as engagement in hostile diplomacy risks derailing the global effort to bring about peace in Somalia.

Somalis are not clanists by nature. No warlord or politician has ever practiced pure clan-ism. It was just a vehicle they used to reach their desired ends. For example, President Farole of Puntland is very far from being a clan-ist. There is nothing in his record to qualify him for that label. If he is one, he would have worked hard to bring Laascaanood back to Puntland. His support for Ahmed Madobe and his heated vitriol against the federal government is just part of his re-election campaign and an effort to divert attention from his job performance. Similarly, Ahmed Madobe is not clan-ist. In 2006, he joined “another” tribe dominated-Islamic Courts in Mogadishu to wage a war against Barre Hiiraale. He vehemently opposed the government of Abdullahi Yusuf. It is only now that he is using clan-ism just to achieve his own goals.

It is very troubling, though, that these gentlemen and their allies put their personal considerations before country’s interests. In Somali politics, clan-ism is like number zero in multiplication. It has no numerical value in and of itself, and when multiplied by another number, how large it may be, the product is a guaranteed zero. In February, 2013 President Hassan Sheikh Mahmud exacted his first major foreign policy victory when the United States officially recognized the government of Somalia. As the President celebrated with jubilant crowds of the Somali community in Minnesota, there was another angry group protesting outside the hall against the President. Similar protests against the President were organized in London several times. This is the effect of clan-ism that makes national victory and achievements of this magnitude irrelevant. The use of Ulusow as an alternative last name for the president is now being circulated for just its tribal connotation. Thanks to Kenya’s intervention in Somalia, the clouds of another round of civil war are hovering over Somalia.

Kenya benefited economically and politically from Somalia’s descent into an endless civil war. Northern Frontier District is no longer a disputed region. During two decades of Somalia’s absence from the international arena have made Nairobi the “other” capital of Somalia in which resources of international agencies and investments were poured into. As if all of these benefits were insufficient, Kenya stepped up to a different level by trying to appropriate Somalia’s sovereign territorial waters. After a failed attempt to realize that dream through a dodgy bilateral agreement in April, 2009, Kenya is now determined to achieve that goal by using a three-point plan in the form of revitalization of clan-ism, empowerment of a warlord and hostile diplomacy. These three factors are precisely what prolonged the civil war in Somalia. Kenyans are obviously operating outside AMISOM’s mandate and if they succeed in carrying out the three-point plan in its entirety, Somalia will undoubtedly descend into another round of civil war. Given the complexity of the issue and the limited number of options, I wonder whether President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will buckle under Kenya’s arm-twisting and give up part of our rich territorial waters in exchange of cessation of  hostility, or find other magic ways to solve the crisis. I wouldn’t recommend the first option!


Hassan Adam Hosow

Edmonton, Canada