Nov 3, 2012

Uganda's threat shows the fragility of peace in Southern Somalia

Ugandan soldiers in Mogadishu from AU/UN flickr
There has been relative peace in Mogadishu and other areas left by Alshabab but this was not peace that was create by the Somali people but one that was enforced by the presence of the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) which is mostly made up of Uganda troops.

But now Uganda's threatens to pull out its troops from Somalia over a UN report detailing its role in arming and supporting rebels in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

This threat would worry the Somali government which entirely depends on the AU peacekeepers for its existance, and the Somali population who are beginning to believe that peace can return again to Southern Somalia.

The AU Peacekeeping force (AMISOM) managed, over the past year or so, to force Alshabab out of most of the major cities and towns they had controlled. As result, Alshabba are now short of money and recruits and there is relative peace in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. The peaceful political transition resulting in the creation of new Somalia parliament, election of a president and prime minister was made possible by the AU peacekeeping. 

Despite Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni's earlier speeches of his humanitarian intentions in Somalia and his desire to create peace, which many of us doubted, is now shown for what it is: he's using Somalia as a tool to avoid criticism of his autocratic rule or his meddling in DRC. However, it's unlikely that Museveni will actually pull out his forces over this UN report because he benefits politically, militarily and economically from this venture. 

But what if the Ugandan troops left Somalia prematurely? The results will be devastating for peace in South Somalia: Alshabab will likely return to towns like Marka and Afgooye and even possibly Mogadishu and you can forget about this new government making any political gains.

The Somali army is largely made up of militias who couldn't fight Alshabab or maintain peace. At the moment, most of the government soldiers are employed for routine security work in the hotels or guarding NGOS and journalists around Mogadishu. SWhen the government's soldier fight alongside the AU peacekeepers, they pose the greatest danger to the local population often robbing shops and homes and committing rape. 

Somalia new president said it was his priority to create an effective army but two months on he didn't actually articulate how he's going to go about it (his predecessors said the same but failed). The biggest obstacle is political and there  are serious issues that need to be politically settled before building a unified national army: how do the semi-independent regions relate to the center? what do you do with the warlords and militias who major crimes against humanity yet have an army rank? how centralized will the army be (i.e. will Puntland's army be run from Mogadishu?). So far none of these issues have been addressed and that means the Somali government will be relying on AU Peacekeepers for a long time to come. 

Therefore the quickest response to the Ugandan threat should be have more diverse troops in Somalia. One proposal, which Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia have been against, is to change the mission from an African Union peacekeeping force to a United Nations force which will allow more countries willing to send troops to Somali (i.e. from Muslim nations like Turkey) to participate. In medium term, the political issues hindering the creation of a national army need to be resolved while training a small multi-regional force that doesn't include any warlords or militias.

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