Mystery, a good part of it- generated by the subject himself – surrounds the early years of Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam ‘Madobe’, the new ruler of Kismayo.
With many enemies scattered across Somalia, Madobe may not emerge as the official governor of the region, but few doubt that he will be the power behind the throne.
Whether the new rulers of Kismayo, backed by African Union (AU) troops, can stabilise the port city and extend their writ across southern Somalia will depend critically on Madobe in the coming months.
Madobe, who declined to be interviewed for this profile, is suspicious of any attempt by the new government in Mogadishu under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to exert control.
The four-berth port is a key strategic asset and rivalries run high between the Marehan, Majerten and Madobe’s own Ogaden clan.
Past associates say Madobe was born in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region; he may want to disguise these origins for political reasons.
Ali, a militia fighter, says Madobe studied the Qu’ran and Islamic law in the mosque.
‘AB,’ a freelance journalist in Somalia, says Madobe finished high school in Mogadishu then read Islamic law in university.
All our sources agreed that he had joined the Islamist Al-Iti- haad al-Islamiya by the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.
He fought with the militia unsuccessfully to take Kismayo in the early 1990s, then joined its raids on Ethiopia.
A consummate deal maker, Madobe raised money to allow former Al-Itihaad fighterstoformabase inthewilderness of Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia.
The leader of the militia, Sheikh Hassan al-Turki, was married to Madobe’s sister but eventually left to join Hizbul Islam, an erstwhile ally of Al-Shabaab.
Madobe’s own deal-making led him from alliances with Islamist militias to fighting against Ethiopian forces and successive regimes in Mogadishu, and then to an alliance with Kenya, which invaded Somalia in October 2011.
For the past year Madobe’s Ras Kamboni Brigade (RKB) has been attacking Al-Shabaab positions with Kenyan support.
This culminated in Madobe’s fighters marching into Kismayo in early October alongside Kenyan troops and soldiers from the Somali National Army (SNA).
Six years ago, Madobe was on the other side. In early 2006, he fought alongside the Islamic Courts Union for control of Mogadishu.
He then joined them in the takeover of Kismayo in September 2006, becoming governor of Lower Juba, Middle Juba, and Gedo.
After Kismayo fell to Ethiopian troops on 1 January 2007, Madobe was hit by an American air strike and ended up in Ethiopian custody.
Under pressure, he briefly switched sides.
In January 2009 he accepted nomination to the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) parliament in Mogadishu.
But seeing little future there, he quickly resigned to rejoin his Islamist allies.
By May 2009, Madobe and the RKB were fighting with Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabaab against the AU forces and TFG troops.
After Al-Shabaab seized control of Kismayo port, it pushed out both Hizbul Islam and the RKB fighters as well.
Madobe retreated to Dhobley on the border with Kenya and started getting support from Nairobi to attack Al- Shabaab positions.
Al-Shabaab proved too strong for the RKB, but Madobe’s fighters remained loyal.
Ali, a former commander, explains: “The Sheikh led by example and would be with us throughout. With his charismatic leadership, the pain of defeat was a little more bearable.”
By October 2012, Madobe was back in Kismayo. But he insisted the city was for its inhabitants not the government in Mogadishu.
However, he supports Nairobi’s idea for a Juba-land state – a buffer zone between Kenya and Somalia.
The plan is opposed by many of the other clans in Kismayo, who collectively outnumber the Ogaden in the city ●
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