, NAIROBI, May 15 – Former Islamist warlord Ahmed Madobe has been elected “president” of Somalia’s volatile southern Jubaland region following weeks of tense negotiations between rival factions, officials said on Wednesday.
The vote in the southern port city of Kismayu was opposed by the central government in the capital Mogadishu, which is keen to stamp its authority on the lawless and war-ravaged nation, not to see further regional splits.
Madobe is also a key ally of Kenya, and his appointment risks opening a rift between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
“Ahmed Madobe was elected by an overwhelming majority to be the president of Jubaland,” said Abdi Nasser Serar, spokesman for the around 500-strong conference of clan elders and local leaders who voted.
All other candidates pulled out of the running ahead of the vote, meaning Madobe was unopposed.
Delegates said that while 10 votes were still cast for other candidates and 15 abstained, 485 voted in favour of Madobe.
The election raises questions as to how far – if at all –he will obey the still-weak authorities in the capital.
But it is also not clear either how widely accepted Madobe will be locally, with several Somali clans jostling for power in the south, once a stronghold of the Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab insurgents until they were pushed out of many areas last year.
However, Madobe’s powerful Ras Kamboni militia control the sea port at Kismayu, the most important town in the southern region.
Usually dressed in military fatigues and sporting a beard dyed red, Madobe was once governor of Kismayu and a key member of the Islamic Courts Union – whose armed wing was the Shabaab – that was toppled by Ethiopia’s 2006 US-backed invasion of Somalia.
During the invasion he was wounded in a bombing raid in southern Somalia, and was captured and taken to Ethiopia, spending at least two years in jail.
After his release, in late 2011 he switched allegiance to battle his former Islamist comrades by fighting alongside invading Kenyan forces.
Kenyan troops – now incorporated into the African Union force in Somalia, mandated to support the government in Mogadishu – captured Kismayu alongside Madobe’s troops in October 2012.
Jubaland joins other semi-autonomous regions of the fractured Horn of Africa nation, including Puntland in the northeast – which want autonomy within a federation of states – and Somaliland in the northwest, which fiercely defends its self-declared independence.
Puntland’s government said it “warmly” welcomed Madobe’s election.