As the allied forces of Somalia, Kenya and the African Union (AMISOM), supported by local militias, march on Kismayo (Kismayu), the al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia's Lower Juba region, multiple parties are already vying for control of the strategic port city creating tension throughout the southern regions of the country.
To get a better understanding of the intentions of two of the groups eyeing Kismayo, Somalia Report sat down with leaders from two pro-government militia groups, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) and Ras Kamboni, that fight alongside Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces against the hardline al-Shabaab militant group.
Our correspondent spoke with Sheikh Mohamed Yusuf (Awlibax), the ASWJ chairman in southern Somalia, as well as Abdullahi Mohamud Mohamed of Ras Kamboni.
Interview with ASWJ's Sheikh Mohamed Yusuf (Awlibax)
Thank you for giving this exclusive interview to Somalia Report. Please briefly tell us about the political tension in Gedo, Middle and Lower Jubba regions.
The political tension is very high as there are so many political groups who are struggling to see Kismayo fall under their control. As ASWJ we have contributed our part in the process towards eliminating al-Shabaab in Gedo region as well as Lower and Middle Jubba regions by fighting and dying for this country. We have a reputation in the diverse Somalia communities and insha'Allah soon after Kismayo is free from al-Shabaab we will occupy the port city.
Traditional elders reject any political or religious groups without their consent. What is ASWJ's response to this?
We are very sorry to hear that the traditional elders are starting to involve themselves in the current political disputes instead of doing their work which is solving clan conflicts and other basic issues. As ASWJ we cannot accept any traditional elder interfering in our policy and if they insist, we will stand against them. Then we will look a solution to curb that problem if it arises. We are religious leaders who want to guide the people on the right path and we want to see our Somalia people to be one, working together and living peace and harmony.
What will ASWJ do if the TFG captures Kismayo and rejects any other political power in the city?
That is not something to worry about for now. The TFG and the ASWJ alongside with the AMISOM forces, Kenya Defensive Forces (KDF) and the Ras Kamboni militia are supporting each other in capturing the port city. The ASWJ are playing the biggest role in the mission of capturing and freeing the Gedo and Jubba regions. If al-Shabaab withdraws from Kismayo, our forces will take their share in the port city. Generally we are conflicting with the TFG but the ASWJ will get its share in the administration and the control of the town. The TFG cannot do all the task of freeing Kismayo alone and so when the town is freed it cannot reject our involvement in the running for the posts available in the town.
What do you believe is the solution of the current political deadlock and the scramble between different political parties?
The solution is clear, each political party has their own agenda and future plans about the rule of the country. Only the successful political party which their leaders satisfy the needs of the people and is corrupt-free will lead the government. The smaller political parties have to come together in order to have a stronger voice and a better representation in the struggle for power in the country. The bigger groups like the ASWJ will continue representing the majority of the people in order to attain and bring the effective leaders to power. The central government should also clearly state and formulate the rules and regulations pertaining to the conduct, operations and the way they should work in order to end the current political deadlock.
Why the ASWJ are eying Kismayo?
We are eying Kismayo because it is a very strategic place for any group. Our main priority is to liberate the town and end the oppression they subjected on the people. Kismayo being a finance generating source and the main source of income for al-Shabaab and once we secure the town, that will deprive them of resources and will lead to their downfall. Kismayo is an outlet to the outside world and the group gets assistance through the sea and we want to distract that from the group.
Which allied forces are planning to take over Kismayo from al-Shabaab? When?
The allied forces who want to liberate Kismayo are clear and they are not debatable. The major forces who want to capture Kismayo are KDF, TFG, ASWJ and Ras Kamboni militia. Together we are planning to capture the town very soon. We are now cleaning the al-Qaeda linked group from most Gedo region and Lower Juba. Our soldiers are planning to free the remaining town of Gedo, Lower and Middle Juba from the Somali enemies before the end of this year. We want the port city to be the under the control of ASWJ.
Who will be in charge of the city after the fall of al-Shabaab?
Currently we cannot predict who will be in charge of the city since there are many political groups targeting the control of the town once the al-Shabaab moves away from the town. It is our aim to be the group in charge since we have confidence with the people in those regions. The other groups like the newly formed Azania, Harti and the Ras Kamboni militia want to claim the future control of the town but all that will prove futile as we are the proper authority to take charge of the town.
Is the ASWJ a political party or a religious sector?
We are a religious group but it entails the political responsibility of the group. We have both a political role and religious authority now. That is why we have combination of roles but not specifically a religious one. We want to safeguard and protect all of Somalia's communities.
You are welcome.
Interview with Ras Kamboni Official Abdullahi Mohamud Mohamed
To get another perspective, Somalia Report also interviewed Ras Kamboni official Abdullahi Mohamud Mohamed.
Thank you for giving this interview to Somalia Report. Can you briefly tell us how the operation is going?
Our operation in Lower and Middle Jubba regions are going well and our forces are working hard day and night. We have extraordinary tactics and are fighting strategically in order to reach the port city of Kismayo and we expect to be there soon.
What are the main objectives of Ras Kamboni militia group?
Our first main target is to eradicate the Al-Qaeda allied militia of al-Shabaab from Middle and Lower Jubba regions and even southern Somalia. Our second target is to capture Kismayo and establish a semi-autonomous state in the Lower and Middle regions which we believe is the only solution that we can develop the regions socially, economically and politically.
Traditional elders declared war against any group who claims leadership of the regions when al-Shabaab are flushed out. How will it affect your group?
Definitely I believe that the elders have no right to be an obstacle to our group because our warrior forces are fighting against al-Shabaab and ensuring to get rid of them so we cannot accept the elders to threaten they are against any group. Elders know their role and we also know it. It is not appropriate for them to interfere in the political issue going on in the region.
Who will take the control of Kismayo if and when al-Shabaab is defeated?
Before the TFG and KDF were in the regions, we were the only group to fight against al-Shabaab and tried to liberate regions under the control. Now we get support from the TFG and KDF forces and we started working as allied forces so our expectation of seizing Kismayo is high and also ruling towns in the region.
Who will be the head of the state you want to establish?
Ras Kamboni Leader Ahmed Madobe
Shiekh Ahmed Madobe who is currently our top leader will serve that position of leadership and we are satisfied with him. He is a man of integrity who can lead the people in the regions in a better way which we believe everyone will admire.
We heard that ASWJ are also interesting Kismayo. Can you comment on this?
We are actually confused as to why ASWJ are interested in Kismayo as they have neither taken part in the liberation process which is going on in Lower and Middle Jubba regions nor have they suggested their interest previously. ASWJ controls and operates in Gedo and the central regions of Somalia. They do not even hail from the Lower and Middle regions so it is better for them to swallow their saliva and stop interfering in our policy.
Finally what is your suggestion?
First I would like to send my appreciation to the residents of Middle Jubba who supported us in the liberation of the region and are now ready to work with our forces until we gain the main victory which is capturing Kismayo. Secondly, I want to tell my people that there are so many groups with specific interests in the regions who want to create confusion among our people so tell them to be very vigilant and aware what is going on these days.
Thank you, Mr. Abdduhali Mohamud Mohamed.
You are welcome.