We are not in a hurry to leave Somalia, says Amisom chief

Liberating Somalia. The head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), Ambassador Maman S. Sidikou, was in Kampala last week for talks with President Museveni about the status of the mission. Sunday Monitor’s Frederic Musisi caught up with him on a wide range of issues, including the exit of Ugandan forces, currently about 6,800.

What brings you to Uganda this time around?
First, I assumed office last month as the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia and as head of mission, the first task I had was to visit all the Amisom troops contributing countries-Uganda having been the first country to deploy definitely had to by my first stop.
The purpose is to seek guidance from each of the heads of state, and also the African Union (AU)’s gratitude for the effortssacrifices to liberate Somalia and help her get back to her feet.
This year we had two major operations Operation Eagle carried out in March and Operation Indian Ocean in September, and I can now confidently say that 85 per cent of Somalia is now liberated from the al-Shabaab. It is refreshing at the moment to see the people of Somalia much freer and business is progressing normally.

What do you mean by seeking guidance from the President of Uganda, does he run the show in Somalia?
You see the situation in Somalia is not only military but also political. As it is always the case, the political forces have great impact on the military if not handled well and normally it’s the spark of conflicts.
You might have heard of recent tensions between the Somali president [Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud] and his prime minister [Abdiweli Ahmed] that we are trying to sort out. There were earlier meetings held in Kampala by Somali leadership and intermediaries that I had to follow-up.
Secondly, as head of mission and representative of the AU, it is essential that we cheer up Uganda and her peers not to relent their support to Somalia as we continue to think through a strategy of exiting and helping the country stand on its own.

What is the status of the Amisom mission in Somalia?
We currently have a force of about 22,000 troops from Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Burundi. We also have the Amisom police contributed by Uganda, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana.
It is only in the southern province where the al-Shabaab maintain stronghold but are becoming weaker every day. We are also moving away from the defence approach, which was our primary mission, to peacekeeping and maintenance.
We are doing this as we embark on intensive training for the Somali police and military in preparation for our exit but after ensuring that the al-Shabaab have been completely defeated.

What are some of the challenges in this?
Definitely, the mission has not been without challenges however much we try. The general welfare of the troops is still not good, including their accommodation, yet we need to boost their morale.
We have a problem with intelligence, improving its capacity, and especially of our sources within the country. You know the al-Shabaab work in such a way that they embed in the public so infiltrating them is not always that easy.
We also still have a problem of coordinating efforts and agenda with both the several bodies working in Somalia.

There are reports here of some Ugandan servicemen on the front delaying to receive remuneration and for the KIA [Killed in Action] relatives finding it hard to make claims. Is it a matter that has been brought to the AU’s attention?
Yes it has, and it’s good that you [media] keep raising the matter for attention. This being an international mission, such concerns are addressed at different levels, but I am quite sure the Ugandan government here is in the know of the matter and is being followed up.
But this being an international mission that was even sanctioned by the UN, why should we have shortfalls like these?
Yes, it’s true we are working under a UN resolution, and yes it is the work of the international community but every time you have a big mission like this, certainly there are bound to be some challenges.

There have been talks of an exit plan in 2016 has the strategy materialised or you are considering reviewing the mission?
Somalia has been in turmoil for almost 23 years, and it wasn’t until the world got concerned and most pointedly, some countries like Uganda took on the pan-African role and deployed [in Somalia].
It was Africa’s initiative, and then the whole world got concerned. Our hope now is to see a peaceful Somalia that can flourish on its own and effectively defend itself. So, definitely we are thinking of an exit strategy but not a rushed one we want and will exit at the right time and when conditions are ripe.

At what point in time will you determine this?
That moment will come, and this being an international mission, the entire world will know.

Now that an exit strategy is in discussion, how would you rate the strength of the al-Shabaab?
They are seriously weakened, hurt and in disarray this is why they have resorted to urban terrorism planting bombs in urban areas working underground and largely focused on ideology work-manipulation.
That is why they, like you saw in 2010, planted bombs in Kampala, and more recently what they are doing in Kenya. They want to divert people’s attention, and we are grateful to both countries that despite all this, they have not given up on their support to the mission. There are a lot of defections within the hierarchy and the al-Shabaab are now focused on recruiting children as young as 15 years old it is a sign of weakness.

There seems to be a lot of international pessimism about Somalia. Just how is this a concern to AU?
It’s a very big concern, and that is why we are having so many conferences on Somalia because we want to reset the agenda to change the way messages are packaged. A lot is said about the country from the outside but when you go inside, something different is completely happening.
We also urge countries contributing troops like Uganda, to keep telling stories of how they are contributing to peace building in Somalia.

There are reports of internal rivalry within the government, of the clans, over ambiguities in the constitution that seem not to cater for interests of all countrymen how is it being addressed not to draw the country back to turmoil?
My take is that whereas politicians are bound to differ, as always, in a situation like Somalia they have to be cautious. It is a very big dilemma to us, and we are trying to ensure a lot of dialogue.
People think differently, we tell them, but we ought to have a healthy debate in here. Our biggest fear is that there are several people out there contributing to the peace process quietly and who are sacrificing a lot and when political actors resort to bickering they feel betrayed and slowly giving up on their efforts.
But above all, we are trying to build institutions that can stand tall and manoeuvre through the politicians’ wrangles to deliver services to the people. There is an upcoming election in 2016, which we’ll ensure is free and fair and is immunised from this political bickering. We want to see the constitution respected and dialogue strengthened and enforced.

New York-based Human Rights Watch Group recently released a report documenting sexual exploitation and abuse of Somali women and girls on two Amisom bases. What have you to say?
The report was based on allegations. Secondly, although we don’t defend nor condone any form of exploitation, the findings ought to have been put in the bigger picture there are about 22,000 troops under Amisom, and if there were 20 cases, the entire force shouldn’t be blamed because it tarnishes the reputation of the entire mission.

The AU described the findings as “allegations” but have you launched an inquiry into the matter?
Yes. We called investigations to substantiate the findings. The chairperson, Madam [Dlamini] Zuma, tasked an independent panel with members from Zambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe, who are on the ground now.
We also put up a hotline for the Somali women to call and report abuse by any Amisom force. We want to leave with a good reputation, to formulate further agenda to peacekeeping not only in Africa but other parts of the world stressed by conflicts.

Any last word
First, on behalf of the AU, I would like to thank Ugandans for the support to their troops in Somalia to their parents, families, wives, children and other loved ones. Many young brave men have lost lives and there is no way you can reward relatives.
Secondly, we are working on the exit plan, and are optimistic that the job ahead to help Somalia build its own systems to stabilise, will be fruitful and then those young men and women will come back home.
Amisom is a partnership of countries and institutions and when this mission is accomplished it will signal positively to the world.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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