‘Somalia needs more peacekeepers’

The international community worries that Somalia, without functioning government since 1993, is turning into a hot bed for extremism. The al Shabaab, an alleged al Qaeda affiliate, reportedly recruits troops of Sheikh Sharif’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) trained by Uganda with European Union funding. Worse, TFG’s mandate lapses in just ten months. Sunday Monitor’s Tabu Butagira asked Somalia’s Information Minister, Mr Abdirahman Omar Osman, why the Horn of Africa nation is constantly blazing:-
News Keydmedia Online

I understand some of the European Union-sponsored Somali police and military officers trained in Uganda, upon return in Mogadishu, defect to Al Shabaab. How is this affecting the fight against the radicals?
Yes, we had very few of our soldiers defecting to join al-Shabaab in the past due to multiple factors. Such included lack of resources for the Somali government to maintain regular payments to its soldiers and al-Shabaab’s propaganda, in particular how they portray the image of Islam.

We have now addressed this issue by implementing recruitment procedures to eliminate such individuals defecting from our forces. Again we have had discussions with international community with a view to assisting and ensuring that our forces receive regular income.

The mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in ten months. How are you handling the transition process towards the August 2011 deadline?
The TFG government has prepared a political roadmap with a view to ensuring that it completes all transitional tasks before August, 2011.

The President (Sheikh Sharif) has recently appointed a new Prime Minister (Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed). It is expected for the Parliament to approve the new Prime Minister. (Legislators endorsed Mohamed on Oct. 30 - Editor) After this, the new PM will form a new cabinet and the cabinet, using government political programme, will seek the vote of confidence from the Parliament.

We are expecting all this process to be completed within couple of weeks. After that the new cabinet will outline the political roadmap with details of how we expect to reach the end of the term and also provide the best way to go beyond August 2011. What is very clear, however, is that Transitional Federal Institutions have to survive beyond August 2011 in order to avoid any vacuum.

Recently, the al Shabaab dragged the body of what they said was an African Union peacekeeper they had killed in combat. Insurgents in Somalia did a similar thing with US forces early 1990s. Does this worry the TFG leadership that Uganda and Burundian governments could contemplate withdrawing their armies like Washington did?

This was a regrettable incident which we, the government of Somalia, strongly condemns.
However, their motive is very clear; they want to terrorise people so they can rule with brutality. It shows their desperation. This atrocity has (somehow) also helped us, as the people keep withdrawing support for al-Shabaab. They see their actions as against [the teachings of] Islam. I can assure that the Somali government is enjoying the support of its people. However, we are lacking resources to properly build on our institutions. Yes, these actions do not help us, the government of Somalia, and more importantly Uganda and Burundi governments.

Our leaders as well as Ugandan and Burundian leaders share the same view which is the importance of helping Somali people and not to allow terrorist groups to win. In this regard, we believe that we can work together with a view to overcoming all the challenges in order to bring peace and stability in Somalia.

It seems the security situation might get worse once the mandate of your government lapses. I do not think the security situation will worsen provided that we have AMISOM [African Union Mission] in Somalia. Somali government recognises the sacrifices of AMISOM forces - Ugandan and Brundian troops. Without them, our institutions could not have survived. I am very confident as long as we have AMISOM troops in Somalia, our institutions will survive.

What is the major impediment for your government to assert its authority beyond Mogadishu?
I strongly believe that this can happen in short period provided that we have the following:
TFG has recruited soldiers and they are lacking resources, discipline and it requires time for them to become disciplined forces within proper institutions.
If we have change of AMISOM mandate, this would help greatly. At the moment al Shabaab are very clever; they know that AMISOM cannot go after them. So they keep coming to AMISOM bases knowing that AMISOM forces will not catch them. If AMISOM had authority to capture the city, it would enable our forces to maintain the peace in those areas.
If only we had more AMISOM troops so they could expand their authority into more [outlying] areas.

How can Somalia’s problem be fixed?
Somalia needs a functioning government that can bring peace and stability in the country. To get this, it needs to get rid of al-Shabaab and the best way is to get around 20, 000 peacekeeping troops so it can control the whole country. There and then the government of Somalia can have space to think strategically on security and other services.
At the moment, Somalia government is facing constant attacks and offensive from al-Shabaab. Worse, they are launching their attacks within 1 kilometre in the city.
Do not underestimate the extreme circumstances in which we, the TFG, attempt to govern. We face daily physical assault from small arms fire. We are targeted by Improvised Explosive Devices. And we suffered the sad loss of five ministers to suicide bombers in recent times [in an attack at a hotel]. But such physical danger does not break our resolve. We remain at our posts, doing what we can, with almost negligible resources.
We must win a military and security war, a finance war, a communications war and an economic war. With everybody playing their part, we can do it.
This is no time for fear and disengagement. It is a time to scale up and get involved. If we don’t quickly stop al Shabaab and al Qaeda within Somalia’s borders, we will be dragged through the most inhospitable continent on earth for decades to come.

Any last word?
I would like to thank the President (Yoweri Museveni), the government and the people of Uganda. In particular, I appreciate the leadership of the President and his vision of Africans solving their problems. This is very much welcomed by Somalis and most Africans. We are so fortunate to have the Ugandan and Burundian troops in Mogadishu.

Source: Dailymonitor


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