Uganda's Peace Keeping Mission in Somalia
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda(R) and President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed of Somalia(L).

Uganda's Peace Keeping Mission in Somalia

Not so peaceful keeping peace in Somalia.

By Gerald Businge
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First published: July 7, 2007

More than three months since Uganda deployed her soldiers in Somalia for an African Union (AU) sponsored peacekeeping mission, debates are growing about the country's decision to send troops to the crisis stricken north east African country. Apart from the fact that Uganda is still the only country to send troops to Somalia under the African Union flag, the death of some Ugandan soldiers increased anxiety among Ugandans on what lies ahead in this seemingly not so peaceful peacekeeping mission to Somalia.

After months of courting the Ugandan Parliament, President Yoweri Museveni's government urgently sent over 1,500 Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) troops to Somalia on March 6th 2007, despite warnings from some Somali clan leaders and Islamic warlords advising Uganda not to take her troops to Somalia if she didn't want them to return to Kampala as corpses. Wilber Muhwezi (rank not disclosed) from Kiruhura district was the fist Ugandan soldier to be lost in Somalia. He was killed by artillery fire on April 1st.

On May 16th, a roadside bomb exploded in Hamr-Weyn, near the old seaport of Mogadishu killing four Ugandan peacekeeping soldiers and severely injuring another six. The UPDF identified the dead as Privates: Fredrick Wanda of Kamuli district, Osbert Tugume of Bushenyi district, Julius Peter Ongu of Pader district and Ojok Kilama Lagule of Gulu district. Wanda and Tugume were buried in Kamuli and Bushenyi respectively on May 20th. Ongu and Kilama were buried on May 21st amid several protests from locals especially in Awach, where Kilama, 40, was buried.

Col. Bernard Rwehururu, Uganda's Military Attaché to Kenya where the injured UPDF were rushed for treatment identified the injured UPDF soldiers as Fred Ssentongo, Boaz Kasswala, Peter Mucunguzi, Simon Tumusiime, Sulait Labu and Odong Okoth.

During Kilama's burial, his brother Walter Ocan and the LC3 Chairman of Awach, David Ochora castigated the Ugandan government for deploying Uganda's sons to be killed in a "foreign" land. "Our children were recruited to defend and serve Uganda and not anywhere else," reasoned Ochora. Not even the presence of many UPDF soldiers and pleas from Lt. Chris Magezi, the 4th Division spokesman seemed to cool the locals' tempers. "The death of our comrades while on international and Pan-African duty is surely a blow to the families of those serving the UPDF in Somalia and we can only pray to the almighty to give them strength. The only consolation is that they did not die in vain," Lt. Magezi said.

Following the death of the five UPDF soldiers, some people called on the Ugandan troops to withdraw from Somalia, fearing they may meet the same fate as the US troops did in 1995. Scenes of Somali gunmen dragging US soldiers behind pick-up trucks are still raw in many people's minds. However, Ruth Nankabirwa, the Ugandan State Minister for Defense says pulling out of Somalia is not an option because according to her, the people of Somalia welcomed the UPDF deployment. Col. Leopold Kyanda, the head of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence says that many warring tribal factions in Somalia have voluntarily surrendered guns to the UPDF in Mogadishu.

Somali president's visit to the Statehouse
Somali president's visit to the Statehouse.

Uganda stands steadfast on its African Union mission.
Nankabirwa says Uganda is playing a brotherly and international duty to help bring peace to Somalia as part of the African Union peacekeeping force, which was requested by the Somali transitional government. She says the bombs which are killing people in parts of Somalia are the work of a few 'Islamists' and Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Apart from concerns by those who think Uganda, which is still faced with a war against the Lords Resistance Army rebels in northern Uganda, should not deploy her soldiers to give Somalis peace which Uganda's citizens do not have, the emerging question is where are the other countries that promised to send troops to Somalia? Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana and Burundi promised to send troops to form part of AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping operation in Mogadishu. In total, the other African Union members agreed to send some 8,000 peacekeeping troops to help stabilize the war torn Somalia while the transitional government of President Abdullahi Yusuf establishes a stronghold to maintain law and order in Somalia. For some reason, these African countries which had promised to send troops to Somalia became hesitant, citing logistical problems, while some say the threats by Islamic militants to kill all foreign troops that go to Somalia kept them from sending in their troops. Only Burundi has promised it will deploy a battalion of peacekeepers in Somalia in July. France is expected to airlift Burundi's troops to Somalia, while the US is providing military equipment like uniforms, boots, bullet-proof jackets and helmets.

Somalia's instability has always been a severe case demanding urgent attention. Whatever the reason is that stops or holds up other countries from helping, the Somali mission might define how the world and Africa view these countries and their current leaders in terms of responding to African problems. Even his critics agree that Uganda's Museveni has shown unwavering leadership doing what others on the continent agreed but failed to do. This might hold the Ugandan political tactician in good stead as Africa debates a political federation. Museveni insists that Uganda is interested in stabilizing Somalia, because a stable Somalia will bring more stability in the region and the continent as a whole so that the people of Somalia and Africa in general can concentrate on developing themselves instead of fighting wars.

But does Uganda understand the intricacies of the Somali conflict?
Though many people appreciate that the peacekeeping mission is backed by the AU, some are quick to point to the fact that the conflict in Somalia is very intricate, and Uganda should have studied the circumstances before committing her troops to Somalia. Though President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's Transitional Federal Government declared its triumph over the rival Islamic Courts Union and the clan-based militia fighting alongside it, violence has continued to reign in Somalia. First, the transitional government is backed by Ethiopia and is supported by the United States; the two countries hated most by Somalis.

Why Ethiopia and the US? The US, as you have guessed, because of its traditional standoff with Moslems, and of course having tried to 'stabilize' and dictate matters in Somalia during the 90s, unsuccessfully.

Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia
Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia.

A look at the 19th century history shows that Somalia, being located at the eastern tip of Africa was popular with many Arab traders. During the Ottoman Empire, Somalia was one of the treasured possessions of the Islamic big house. Islam was integrated into the way of life and the cultural setting of Somalis. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the late 1800s, the Europeans meeting in Berlin worked out a system by which portions of Somalia went to Italy, Britain and France. Ethiopia, which as you know survived the colonial onslaught on Africa, was then ruled by Emperor Menelik II. The Emperor pleaded with the Europeans (fellow Christians), to be given a share of Somalia, claiming that his country was a Christian island in an Islamic ocean. Ethiopia was given a share of Somalia; the Somali-speaking Ogaden. This territory is the primary source of enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia.

Map of Ethiopia highlighting Somali Region
Map of Ethiopia highlighting Somali Region.

Even without bringing Ethiopia into the picture, Somalia's conflict has always been as intriguing as it has been unfortunate. The country's population is made up of one tribe. Almost all the people of Somalia are Moslems. But very few embrace the Islamic Union's fervent brand of faith that believes in Sharia law and treats the federal charter, which is secular, with disdain. Somali clans have been fighting each other for as long as anyone can remember. Muslim Somalis have fought Christian Ethiopians living in Somalia's neighbour to the west which resulted in foreign forces seeking influence in Somalia. In case you had never noticed, Ethiopians and Somalis are almost of the same ethnicity. Being the main link to the Indian Ocean, many countries in the region have always had interests in Somalia.

Nuruddin Farah, a Somali Novelist who has participated in peace attempts to bring together the ICU and the transitional government in Somalia says in an article published in The New York Times that the two sides aren't that much interested in discussing governance issues, instead choosing to discuss "matters they deemed important: whether theaters should be open; whether girls could be permitted to wear jeans or go about unveiled; whether tea houses should play music, or young men watch soccer on television."

After the transitional government came into being in 2004 after a two-year-long national reconciliation conference held in neighbouring Kenya, many Somalis accused the US of using Christian Ethiopia to establish an unpopular government that initially operated from the town of Baidoa. Though the transitional government had been agreed on by most warring factions, the support it got from Ethiopia made most clan leaders support the ICU, which until earlier this year controlled Mogadishu and most of Somalia.

The country has been stateless for many years, to the extent that the first transitional government once run Somali affairs from Kenya. The President, the Parliament and all government administration arms were then operating from Nairobi until April 2007 when Ugandan peacekeeping troops covered and secured much of Mogadishu. With Ethiopian forces, which overthrew the Islamic Union Courts (ICU) government, yet to leave Somalia, the presence of Ugandan troops in Somalia is most likely to be looked at as an additional foreign force establishing US and Christian interests rather than as a peace keeping force they (Somalis) should support. "If I was in the President's shoes, I wouldn't have meddled in Somalia's affairs because it needs peaceful negotiations NOT a military one," says Gareth Asiimwe, a strong critic of Uganda's peace keeping mission in Somalia.

Other people like Kassim Mutabaazi who support the deployment see sending troops to Somalia as the best way to help the people of Somalia who have not had a stable government for almost two decades towards a stable state that they can be proud of. "The Ugandan government made a commendable decision to send troops to Somalia. People in Somalia are suffering because they lack a strong government, which can enforce order. They are in a stateless situation. It is better to have a bad government than to have no government at all. Although some soldiers have fallen in the process we Ugandans do not have to be discouraged to the extent of pulling out of Somalia. If Uganda relents and pulls out it will be disastrous to the people of Somalia and to Uganda. It will give the insurgents morale to cause more trouble. Ugandan soldiers should continue with the good job they are doing," Mutabaazi says.

However he agrees with Asiimwe that pacification does not rely on military means alone. "There is need to embark on mobilisation of the Somali masses and even try to persuade the insurgents to rally behind the interim government. There is need for a cohesive force to ensure that people get along with the transitional government. Coercion alone is not enough," Mutabaazi says.

But Nankabirwa says the issue is not how intricate the conflict of Somalia is, but the fact that the transitional government asked the AU to send a peacekeeping force to Somalia, and the AU asked Uganda among others to send troops to Somalia.

"We followed every due process in deploying in Somalia. Critics of this peacekeeping mission are not giving the government of Uganda due credit for responding to an African Union call to deploy peacekeeping troops to help our brothers in Somalia," she says. Though the peace mission was at first criticized in Uganda, it was not only approved by Parliament, but received a nod from Uganda's opposition politicians.

From right: the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, Commander of Land Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala with two Somali officials at the Statehouse during the Somali president's visit
From right: the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, Commander of Land Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala with two Somali officials at the Statehouse during the Somali president's visit.

Uganda commended for peacekeeping mission.
Despite the inevitable high cost of the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, especially the loss of lives, Uganda has been commended internationally for sending troops to Somalia. The United Nations Security Council recently commended Uganda for the role being played by the Uganda People's Defense Forces currently deployed in Somalia. The 15 nation member UN body reiterated its call to other African troops to contribute troops to the AU operation in Somalia and to "other states and partners to provide financial, technical and logistical support for this effort."

Several Countries like the USA, Britain, France and Germany have also commended the quick response of Uganda in sending troops to Somalia. Britain's envoy to Uganda, Francois Gordon recently announced a US$2.6M (4.5billion Uganda shillings) grant to Uganda to help the country sustain its peacekeeping force in strife-stricken Somalia. Even some of the local critics to Uganda's deployment in Somalia are silently happy that the country has saved the image of Africa at a time when the continent tries to show it can solve African problems like the one in Somalia.

But at what cost should this peacekeeping mission come for Uganda? No one will wish that soldiers, who don't even decide where they should be deployed, die on such a peaceful mission. But, like has been said, sometimes, you have got to do what has to be done. Somalia needs pacification. If fellow African countries can help Somalia achieve stability, the better for everyone. Ugandans can only hope that the peacekeeping mission is not in vain and that it will be a bloodless mission that will contribute to the stabilization of Somalia and Africa as a whole.

By Gerald Businge
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First published: July 7, 2007
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Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.