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The President of Somalia’s latest semi-autonomous region, to be known as Azania, said in an interview with Somalia Report his priority is to liberate areas in the border region with Kenya from extremists, and dismissed fears that such mini-states will cause more conflict in Somalia.
Former Defence Minister Mohammed Abdi Ghandi, who was sworn in Sunday as the first President for Azania Region, is determined to see the new region – formed from Gedo, Middle Juba and Lower Juba – freed from militant Islamist group al-Shabaab.
"Our first priority is to liberate the region from extremists and help our people realize their dream of living in a free and peaceful land," he said. "We are forced by the current situation to stand up and defend our people."
Ghandi, who was a longtime professor of anthropology in France and a historian, said the name Azania - instead of Jubaland, which many had expected the region to be called - had been chosen for its historical significance.
"Azania was a name given to Somalia more than 2,500 years ago and it was given by Egyptian sailors who used to get a lot of food reserves from the Somali Coast," he said. "Its origin is Arabic word meaning the land of plenty.”
Acknowledging that it will be a difficult task to fight an insurgent group well-established in the region, the professor said he would welcome help from anywhere and anyone ready to assist.
Regional states not a problem
A number of mini-states have been formed in Somalia, including Somaliland, Puntland, Galgadud and now Azania, raising fears that, this may lead to further disintegration of Somali society. However Prof Mohamed Abdi Ghandi disagrees.
"I don’t think that is the case in Somalia today," he said. "This is the time Somalis should determine their own destiny. I think we have seen enough bloodshed, it time we solve our crisis on our own."
Talks to create the semi-autonomous region have been ongoing last two and half years, with countries like Kenya training local militia from the three regions. Already the troops trained in Kenya are engaged in fierce fighting in the towns bordering Kenya controlled by al-Shabaab. Dhobley recently became the latest town to come under the control of the troops trained in Kenya.
Azania in interests of Kenyan security
Analysts believe it is in Kenya's interests to have a friendly administration in the Somali towns it shares borders with, a fact acknowledged by the new president.
"The initiative was ours; However, Somalis in the diaspora and most importantly the Kenyan government have supported us financially," he said. "Kenya being the good neighbour it is, has supported this initiative in an effort to enhance security both in Somalia and at its borders."
The Azania region has more than one million residents, and is strategically important to both Kenya and Ethiopia, who are members of IGAD, a regional group tasked with helping Somalia stand on its own feet.
A plan to select members of parliament for the new state has been postponed for another meeting, to be held in a month's time.