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In the news: Somalia clashes displace thousands

Tensions are rising in the semi-autonomous Jubaland region. Al-Shabab may stand to gain.

Photo of voting in Somalia's 2016 presidential elections
Voting in Somalia's 2016 presidential elections. Tensions are rising in the country's semi-autonomous Jubaland region ahead of upcoming national elections. (UNSOM Somalia)

Somali troops clashed with forces from the country’s semi-autonomous Jubaland region this week in a flare-up of violence that displaced thousands and is raising tensions with neighbouring countries.

Hostilities in the small southern region have been rising since last August, when Jubaland’s incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won local elections that Mogadishu described as “not free and fair”.

The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win as it seeks greater control over Somalia's five regions ahead of upcoming national elections, which will introduce a one-person one-vote system for the first time in decades.

Neighbouring Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu.

On Wednesday, Kenya accused Somali troops engaged in the clashes – which began in February – of encroaching on its territory and destroying property in border areas.

"This action amounts to an unwarranted attack by foreign soldiers with the intention of provoking Kenya," the government said.

At a UN Security Council briefing last week, a US official said the clashes may play into the hands of al-Shabab and called on the government and regional troops to work together against the al-Qaeda-linked group.

An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted since the clashes began, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA – and 2.6 million people are displaced in the country overall. 

A locust invasion sweeping across East Africa is meanwhile threatening Somalia’s already fragile food security situation, and led the country to declare a national emergency last month.

– Philip Kleinfeld

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