African Nations in Somalia Back State Rule of Key Kismayo Port

African nations that contribute to the peacekeeping force in Somalia said they back efforts by the government to assert its authority in the main southern port of Kismayo and its airport.

“Control of the Kismayo seaport and airport should be handed over to the federal government of Somalia,” heads of states and government representatives from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Djibouti said in an e-mailed statement after a meeting in Kampala on Aug. 3 to discuss the African Union Mission in Somalia. Officials from Ethiopia, which has deployed soldiers in Somalia independent of the African Union operation, and Somalia also attended the discussions.

The United Nations-mandated peacekeeping mission began operating in 2007 to eliminate the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group, which is trying to establish Islamic law. The force, which has grown to more than 17,700 troops, has worked alongside Somali soldiers to drive out al-Shabaab from its key strongholds including the capital, Mogadishu, two years ago.

The governments expressed concern that African Union force may be partially “re-hatted” under the UN, according to the statement. The move would be “considered premature and may cause a dysfunctional command and control, unequal and inequitable distribution of resources and negative consequences on the operational effectiveness of the mission,” it said. The leaders called for African leadership in stabilizing Somalia.

Jubaland Leadership

Somalia’s federal government is making a 16th attempt to impose a central administration on the Horn of Africa nation since former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Kismayo is the capital of the southeastern region of Jubaland, where representatives in May elected Ahmed Mohamed Islam, a former fighter also known as Madobe, as interim leader.

The port served as supply route and key source of an estimated $50 million a year that al-Shabaab militia earned from taxes on Somalia’s harbors before it fled the city, according to the UN.

Militia organizations should be integrated into Somalia’s national army with the exception of any group affiliated with al-Shabaab, according to the statement.

The African Union force, known as Amisom, is supposed to stabilize Somalia and create conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid before the “immediate take over” by the UN, according to the mission’s website.

“Any efforts to re-hat Amisom under the UN peacekeeping operations will clearly render the gains made so far invisible,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said at the summit, according to an e-mailed copy of his remarks.

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