Somali state braces for election with risks to regional stability

The current president of Jubaland and election frontrunner is Ahmed Madobe. (Reuters)
Updated 21 August 2019

Somali state braces for election with risks to regional stability

  • Mogadishu is accused by Jubaland of trying to oust President Ahmed Madobe by backing the opposition, in what observers say is a bid to get a loyalist into power in the strategic region
  • Kenya sees Jubaland, a lush, relatively prosperous part of Somalia where it has many troops, as a buffer between it and Al-Shabab militants

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s southern state of Jubaland is under lockdown ahead of a tense election Thursday which has pitted regional authorities against Mogadishu and sparked tensions with neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
The highly contested election in the semi-autonomous state has been postponed several times as a result of what observers say is a power struggle between Mogadishu, the regional government and their foreign backers.
Authorities in the region’s capital, the port city of Kismayo, have shut the airport and closed borders until August 23.
“Security forces are patrolling inside and around the suburbs of Kismayo to avert any attempt to disrupt the election. The airport was also closed temporarily so that there will not be any flights expected during the election day,” local security official Abdulkarim Warsame told AFP.
The current president of Jubaland and election frontrunner is Ahmed Madobe, a former warlord who, with the help of Kenyan troops, pushed Al-Shabab extremists out of their former stronghold in Kismayo in 2012.
However Mogadishu is accused by Jubaland of trying to oust Madobe by backing the opposition, in what observers say is a bid to get a loyalist into power in the strategic region, and increase the control of the federal government.
Mogadishu has said it will not recognize the outcome of Thursday’s poll, after it rejected the formation last week of a new parliament — which appoints the regional president — as disputed and not inclusive.
Madobe’s opponents meanwhile are organizing a rival election.
The United Nations mission in Somalia on Wednesday called for a “single electoral process that is credible, inclusive, fair and peaceful.”
“We are concerned that in the absence of such agreement, the likelihood of instability and division within Jubaland is significantly increased.”
Matt Bryden, Senior Policy Adviser to Nairobi-based think tank Sahan, said the tensions had wider implications as Kenya was strongly backing its ally Madobe while Ethiopia was siding with Mogadishu in trying to remove him.
Kenya sees Jubaland, a lush, relatively prosperous part of Somalia where it has many troops, as a buffer between it and Al-Shabab militants who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.
Observers say that for Kenya, having an ally in Jubaland is also key amid a spat with Mogadishu over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.
Ethiopia also has troops there, and played a key role in the formation of the state, however new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has renewed ties with Mogadishu, and is now backing their stance in what is seen as a rejection of the historical alliance with Nairobi.
“So what we now risk is a kind of proxy war... External contestation over Jubaland represents a risk to the stability of the region, not just to Somalia,” said Bryden.
Bryden said the federal government appears to be trying to “dismantle the structure of federalism” and return to a more unitary system akin to the government which collapsed after the 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre’s military regime which ushered in decades of chaos.
He said Mogadishu’s campaign against the federal member states was a dangerous move that would only benefit Shabab, which killed 26 people in an attack on a Kismayo hotel last month.
“The federal government is putting more time and energy into waging war against its own member states than into fighting Al-Shabab, so of course Al-Shabab benefits,” he said.


US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

Updated 31 October 2020

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

  • On Friday the US set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours
  • More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began

WASHINGTON: The United States passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday and broke its own record for daily new infections for the second day in a row, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, as Covid-19 surges days before the country chooses its next president.
The US, which has seen a resurgence of its outbreak since mid-October, has now notched up 9,034,295 cases, according to a real-time count by the Baltimore-based school.
On Friday the country set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours, breaking the record of 91,000 it had set just one day earlier.
With the virus spreading most rampantly in the Midwest and the South, hospitals are also filling up again, stretching the health care system just as the nation heads in to flu season.
"We are not ready for this wave," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University school of public health, warned on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.

COVID-19 tally by the John Hopkins University of Medicine as of October 30, 2020.

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, imposed a curfew this week to protect "overwhelmed" health care workers and began setting up field hospitals.
But a judge's attempt to shut down non-essential businesses in the city has been challenged by the mayor and the state's attorney general, the Washington Post reported.
Midwestern state Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital in recent weeks, and hospital workers in Missouri were sounding warning bells as cases rise.
Hospitals in the western state of Utah were preparing to ration care by as early as next week as patients flood their ICUs, according to local media.
The pattern of the pandemic so far shows that hospitalizations usually begin to rise several weeks after infections, and deaths a few weeks after that.
More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began, the Hopkins tally showed as of Friday, with the daily number of deaths creeping steadily upwards in recent weeks also -- though at present it remains below peak levels.
For months public health officials have been warning of a surge in cases as cooler fall weather settles over the US, driving more people indoors.
As the weather changes, New York and other parts of the northeast, which were the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring but largely controlled the virus over the summer, were reporting a worrying rise.
Some epidemiologists believe that Covid-19 spreads more easily in drier, cool air.
Rural areas, which in the spring appeared to be getting off lightly compared to crowded cities, were also facing spikes with states like North Dakota charting one of the steepest rises in recent weeks.
The state is so overwhelmed that earlier this month it told residents they have to do their own contact tracing, local media reported.
With four days to go until the election, Donald Trump was battling to hold on to the White House against challenger Joe Biden, who has slammed the president's virus response.
"It is as severe an indictment of a president's record as one can possibly imagine, and it is utterly disqualifying," Biden said Friday as the toll passed nine million.
Trump downplays the virus even as the toll has been accelerating once more, holding a slew of rallies with little social distancing or mask use.
He has repeatedly told supporters that the country is "rounding the curve" on Covid infections.
But Americans, wary of crowded polling booths on Election Day as the virus spreads, are voting early in record numbers.