Saturday, 8 September 2012

Paying the price,Uganda`s battle to pacify Somalia

By Ronald Ssekandi

Firemen work at a plane crash site in Rome, Italy, Sept. 7, 2012. A small plane crashed near Rome on Friday, killing the pilot and the passenger onboard, local media reported. The Cessna aircraft, taking off in the northern city of Brescia and flying to Rome, crashed into a car depot in an industrial area near Ciampino airport. (Xinhua/Vigili Del Fuoco)

Uganda President:Museveni
 Where others failed, Uganda under the African Union (AU) went in to attempt to pacify volatile Somalia about five years ago.
Unlike the U.S. in 1994, Ugandan blood was and is still being spilt on Somali soil but this East African country has not left, instead it has remained resilient and sent more troops to the Horn of African country.
Over 70 body bags have been brought back home since the battle started, but Uganda is still resolute and at times uses its meager resources to fund some of the operations under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Because of its involvement in Somalia, Uganda paid the price back home in July 2010 when over 70 people were killed in twin bomb blasts by the Al-Shabaab, Somali militants with known links to Al-Qaida, a terror organization.
Last month Uganda was hit hard when three of its helicopter gunships crushed in neighboring Kenya en route to Somalia.
Seven Ugandan soldiers died in the nasty incident that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni described as sinister, prompting him to institute a probe.
With all these losses, what is Uganda's drive to stay involved in pacifying Somalia? The Uganda military argues that it is because of its pan African ideology. The notion that when your neighbor's house is on fire, you must get involved in putting it out or else yours is next.
"It is a clear writing on the wall .. If we do not wake up ourselves as Africans to resolve these problems on the continent and we expect other people to come in and do it for us, then we are swimming in the dark. We need to wake up," Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, Commander Land Forces of the Ugandan military told Xinhua in an interview on Sept. 6.
Uganda also believes that piracy in the Gulf of Aden can be solved by fighting the insurgents in Somalia who profiteer from the vice.
Shipping companies increased the premium they charge following the piracy in the Gulf of Aden because of the high risks their ships face. This however affected the economic development of some of the land locked countries like Uganda as the cost of importing and exporting goods was rising by the day.
Ugandan efforts coupled with that of the Burundian, Kenyan and Djibouti peacekeepers have started paying off.
The military operations in Somalia are divided into three sectors with each country taking a lead in each of the sectors.
Sector one which is the Mogadishu area is the main responsibility of Uganda supported by Burundi. The area has over the last one year seen increasing stability with the insurgents driven out of the capital.
Kenya is also making progress in Sector two covering the Kisimayo area. Kenya will soon be joined by Sierra Leone troops according to Katumba.
Sector three which is a responsibility of Burundi supported by Ugandan troops covers the Baidoa area. According to Katumba, the over 2,800 Ugandan troops that are being deployed in this area will be charged with securing the route linking Mogadishu to Baidoa.
"Our interest now would be to link sector one to sector three of the Burundians. We know that this is achievable. We now know the enemy we are fighting, we know his capabilities and weaknesses, " he said.
The Al-Shabaab is increasingly weakening evidenced by the increasing loss of territory according to the Uganda military.
This weakness however cannot be taken for granted.
"The enemy is very good in asymmetric warfare, when you defeat him on combat to combat fighting, he resorts to improvised explosive devices, he resorts to suicide bombings, those are his tactics," said Katumba.
While more troops are needed on the ground to decisively deal with the Al-Shabaab, it is not possible because of the African Union's lack of funds to pay the soldiers' allowances.
"Their main worry is about the allowances because the allowances of these troops come from the European Union (EU). EU and AU had agreed at a 17,731 as the cap, so anything over and above that will not be provided with allowances," said Katumba.
Because of this impediment and AU's reorganizations of the peacekeeping forces in view of countries bringing in troops, Uganda had to send back home 600 of its troops deployed in Somalia.
"It does affect our operations. Really if I had my way I would have as many troops on the ground as possible because it would mean that we would be able to do the job in a shorter time," Katumba said.
"It is like giving an under dose to a patient, the patient does not cure possibly as fast as he would if he was given the right doses. I wish they could open up that ceiling and enable more contribution of troops," he added.
On the military front, successes have been recording at least by restoring relative stability in the capital Mogadishu.
For the first time in decades, the Somalis are engaged in an election process that will see the war torn country elect its president. Already parliament has been selected and the election of a president is next.
Depending on how Somalia pulls off the election process, according to observers, it will be a major milestone in the Horn of African country.
Katumba argues that while the military has played its part, it is now up to the Somali politicians to either 'rock the boat' or let is sail to peace and stability.
Meanwhile a small plane crashed near Rome on Friday, killing two people onboard, local media reported.
The Cessna aircraft took off in the northern city of Brescia for Rome before crashing into a car depot in an industrial area near Rome's Ciampino airport, according to Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The two victims, a pilot and a passenger aged 50 and 39 respectively, were killed.
Local police teams at the crash site were reportedly overwhelmed by a fire which destroyed some 30 cars, while six workers of the depot were rescued.
Investigators have opened a probe into the accident, whose causes were still unknown. (Xinhua).

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