The war-torn Somalia could be headed for deeper trouble if plans to create another autonomous region along its borders with Kenya are carried through, which its members among Ethiopian rebel.
Although being billed as a good tactical move to help stabilise the lawless country, some observers say it could spark fresh rounds of civil war between regional authorities and the Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab militia that is causing grave security concerns in the Horn of Africa.
A meeting in Nairobi this week discussed the formation of a semi-autonomous Jubaland that will comprise northern regions of Lower and Middle Juba and Gedo on the Kenya-Somalia border.
If the plan goes through, Jubaland would become the third semi-autonomous breakaway region after Somaliland and Puntland.
A group of former Somalia MPs told the Nairobi meeting that if created, Jubaland would act as a buffer zone and frustrate incursions by Al Shabaab into the region, prevent entry of refugees, and smuggling of arms into Kenya.
Kenya has backed the proposal with the hope it would help crush the Al Shabaab insurgents operating along the Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia border.
The Nairobi meeting was held at a time Mandera is under siege from heavily armed Al Shabaab fighters.
The rebel fighters have wounded a number of villagers and even police and military officers based in the town and its environs.
The militia group have pounded the town with mortar fire as they fight the Somalia Transitional Government troops across the border. The rebel group is opposed to the breakaway.
A former senior police officer, who spoke to The Standard On Saturday, on condition of anonymity because he is still bound by State secrets rules, warned the Kenyan Government to tread carefully on its relationship with the new Jubaland.
“It will not be easy. It may help stop the Al Shabaab in the long run but the Government must be ready for a fight because the militia will definitely resist the creation of the new state,” said the former officer.
He added: “I hope our top security advisors weighed the pros ad cons of openly supporting such an initiative. I hope the Government is prepared to deal with the repercussions.”
But delegates at the meeting downplayed the fears that the creation of Jubaland would create more security problems in the already troubled region.
Muhammed Gandhi, a former defence minister in Somalia who is co-ordinating the plan said it would bring stability in the region occupied by Al Shabaab.
“We are ready to liberate the three regions from Al Shabaab,” he said.
A seven day congress attended by Somali’s Transitional Federal Government members of parliament, representatives from African Union, IGAD representatives and elders from the region are supposed to come up with a roadmap of how to defeat the terror group.
On Wednesday, delegates adopted a regional constitution with 81 Articles to help govern the new state. They also elected Professor Gandhi as the new president of Jubaland.
The new ‘country’ is fashioned on the model of the autonomous Puntland and Somaliland in the north.
“We intend to conclude a plan of action that has been ongoing for the last two years. We must restore nationhood and unity to the people of Somalia who have suffered foe the last 20 years,” said Prof Gandhi.
He said Somalis in the Diaspora, civil society working inside the war torn country and other groups have supported the plan.
Kenya is reportedly interested in helping develop the new regional administration to establish a buffer zone between it and the Islamist insurgency in southern Somalia.
There are concerns that Kenya’s border with Somalia is a conduit for small arms, which are then distributed to the whole region, and an easy route for refugees.
According to the leaked Wikileaks documents, Kenya is said to have supported the creation of the Jubaland to provide a buffer zone and prevent the entry of refugees and illegal arms.
Wafula Wamunyinyi, the Deputy Special Representative of the African Union Mission in Somalia, says Somalis must drive peace initiatives before outside intervention.
“This plan has the support of AU and Igad members. But we must engage the local community to understand the importance of peace,” said Wamunyinyi.
However, some countries in the region were not enthusiastic about the plan. Ethiopia, for example, is concerned about the likely impact on its own Somali-dominated Ogaden region where rebels are fighting for independence. Others doubt Kenya’s tactical capacity to carry out the plan given the strong presence of Al Shabaab rebels in Jubaland whose capital city is Kismayu.
Recent US diplomatic cables quoted Ethiopian Prime minister Melez Zenawi as fearing for negative regional impact if the plan failed.
The breakaway Puntland has in the past one year witnessed assassination of high profile government officials including a judge and an MP. Somalia slipped into lawlessness following the ouster of President Siad Barre in 1991. The country has since witnesses several coups and murders of top leaders as various clans fight for power.