Source: Daily Monitor
This year, the British government is putting much of its diplomatic effort into trying to bring peace and stability to Somalia. A BBC reporter who has just returned from Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda, reports on the background to the London Conference on Somalia scheduled for February 23.
« In Somalia, nowhere to hide!” These are words of Major Duncan Kashoma who was wounded in Mogadishu five years ago while serving in the The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) force. Major Kashoma was hit by shrapnel from an 83mm mortar shell – a large and devastating weapon in an urban battlefield. His chest and abdomen were ripped open. “My intestines came out. I didn’t realise. I was trying to find out what had happened to my soldiers. I didn’t know I was hit until someone told me!” Six Ugandan soldiers died that day, among the first Ugandan casualties. Major Kashoma didn’t stop bleeding for three days, by which time he was in a Nairobi hospital. He is waiting for further surgery on his legs and his body still carries shrapnel fragments, some are still in his eyes.
As the London Conference on Somalia takes place on Wednesday, Uganda People’s Defence Forces chief, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, says the situation has changed in Mogadishu since five years ago. With Amisom forces controlling Somalia’s capital, and Kenya on the offensive from the south, Somalis could see light at the end of the tunnel soon.
“The operation over Mogadishu is over and Amisom forces are now embarking on liberating the rest of Somalia,” Gen Aronda told this newspaper on telephone. He added that “the operation plan is complete,” and it will on four sectors, namely in; Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidoa and Bila Tuan.
But this could not have come without a price paid by the forces of the participating countries in this campaign.
Officially, the Ministry of Defence says the death toll among Ugandan soldiers since 2007 stands at 80.
On my recent tour of Uganda, Kenya and Somaliland, I was struck by the way Major Kashoma’s words – in Somalia, nowhere to hide – can be a warning to all the governments involved in Somalia, including East African nations and their Western allies.
In Uganda, despite official efforts to control the story of the campaign against al-Shabaab, the government has not really succeeded in hiding the cost from Uganda’s people.
Opposition against the campaign
The opposition’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) is making the ending of the Somalia deployment part of its campaign. A senior officer in FDC, retired Major Rubaramira Ruranga told me there is increasing scepticism about the fundamental purpose of the mission.
The campaign is not about stabilising the region, says Maj Ruranga who retired from the army nearly two decades ago. He argues that it’s about maintaining the pretence of an external enemy to divert attention from what needs to change inside Uganda itself.
However, serving officers I spoke to are on message, and refer to recent successes in the north of Mogadishu. Capt Judith Asiimwe, who has served in Mogadishu, told me she is sure the UPDF has the will, the weapons and the training from British, French and US troops to fight on. But she echoed an opinion I heard from other soldiers: “I would call on other African countries to send troops so we can make Somalia stable,” she told me. In 2007, Nigeria said it would send more than 1,000 troops, Malawi up to 1,000 more, and there have been commitments from Ghana and Sierra Leone as well. So far, none have arrived in Somalia.
Unless the Amisom force reaches at least its planned strength of 20,000 there is an obvious danger. Amisom can take ground, but with too few AU troops to remain amongst the population to protect them there is little to stop al-Shabaab returning.
In the Balkans in the 1990s, I saw the futility of an under-strength peacekeeping operation. The UN ‘Protection Force’ in Bosnia was reduced to bribing local warlords with the food aid they were supposed to be taking to besieged towns and villages just to be allowed to pass checkpoints that were little more than a man sitting beside the road on a kitchen chair brandishing a hunting rifle.
Can Amisom pull a miracle?
Amisom has a more robust mandate. But strength comes from numbers. People do not trust peacekeepers who don’t hold and harden their forward positions.
Gen Aronda, whose Ugandan contigent has the biggest force in Somalia says, today (February 20), “the UN Security Council is passing a resolution to authorise additional forces for the total liberation of Somalia”. This is a boost to the Wednesday conference.
“The London conference will among other things, advocate for sustained international community’s support of Somalia’s liberation and generate the required success,” Gen Aronda adds. “Because of the success of African Union forces, more countries are now coming on board. And for the first time in many years, the UN Representative for Somalia left Nairobi last month and now comfortably operates in Mogadishu.”
By Dan Damon