GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) - The president of Jubbaland, a Somali region critical to East Africa’s fight against the Islamist militants of al Shabaab, won a new term on Thursday, highlighting a growing rift between the federal government and its semi-autonomous states.
The contest has stoked tensions between Kenya and Ethiopia, long-time allies who both have large contingents of peacekeepers in the country and see Jubbaland as a buffer zone against Islamist attacks in their own countries.
Kenya supports the victor, Ahmed Mohamed Madobe, while Ethiopia has grown increasingly close to the federal government in Mogadishu.
Madobe won 56 of the 74 votes cast in the regional parliament, parliamentary speaker Cabdi Maxamed Abdirahmaan said.
“I am ready to sit and speak with all people, including the opposition. I will speak and work with anyone who has a complaint,” Madobe told parliament after the vote.
A number of opposition candidates who had been barred from registering for the election said they had held their own vote in Kismayo on Thursday, electing Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig.
The federal government in Mogadishu, which had called the election process unconstitutional, said it rejected both contests.
The Interior Ministry said it “does not recognize the two different results in Kismayo, where two people each claimed to be the president of Jubbaland”.
Jubbaland is seen as the breadbasket of Somalia and the capital Kismayo is a strategically important port. Its shoreline delineates a hotly contested maritime zone, with potential oil and gas deposits, claimed by both Somalia and Kenya.
Madobe ousted al Shabaab from Kismayo in 2012 with the help of Kenyan forces, then took power, and was first elected in 2015.
Hundreds of people gathered in the streets of Kismayo after the result was announced, chanting “Long live Ahmed Madobe!” and waving his picture.
Jubbaland is the third of Somalia’s seven semi-autonomous regions to hold presidential elections before next year’s national vote.
While analysts say that the federal president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, must exert greater control over Jubbaland and the other regions to have a chance of winning next year, they also expect the federal government to grudgingly accept Thursday’s result, despite earlier fears of violence.
“They will have to live with (Madobe),” said Hussein Sheikh-Ali, a former national security adviser and founder of the Mogadishu-based think-tank the Hiraal Institute.
Al Shabaab controls swathes of territory and several towns in Jubbaland, and analysts say it may exploit the spat over the election.
The militants, who want to overthrow the Somali government, have killed thousands of Somalis, and hundreds of civilians across East Africa, and in a decade-long insurgency.
Somalia is still trying to claw its way out of the embers of the civil war that engulfed it in 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other.
Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Maggie Fick and Kevin Liffey