Uganda’s Security Minister Muruli Mukasa has stated that the country intends to withdraw its troops from Somalia and other conflict hotspots in response to the UN’s allegation that Uganda is supporting M23 rebels in DRC.
Ugandan forces in Somalia—estimated to be at 6,860 troops—make up 1/3 of the approximately 18,000 AMISOM troops in Somalia.
Some analysts simply view this as an empty threat from Uganda that will be settled in diplomatic backchannels.
However, the threat of a major foreign troop withdrawal is a stern wake-up call for the need of a long-term domestic security plan.
Foreign Forces in Somalia
Somalis have reacted sternly to foreign troops throughout the country’s history, and groups like al-Shabaab have used the presence of foreigners as a rallying cry for recruitment and support.
Foreign forces that have poured into Somalia have been responsible for civilian deaths–usually from indiscriminate shooting after al-Shabaab attacks or erroneous mortar shelling. But, many contingents of AMISOM are performing better than their counterparts in the Somali National Army (SNA).
For example, after government-allied forces took over Afgoye from al-Shabaab in August 2012, residents immediately complained of looting and harassment by the Somali National Army. SNA forces were also guilty of establishing illegal checkpoints along the roads linking Mogadishu and Afgoye, and the army allegedly shot and killed Afgoye residents who were protesting against the illegal schemes.
Some reports indicate that the SNA’s involvement in illegal checkpoints is due to the long periods that soldiers often go without pay, which is another issue that must be addressed.
Amid these dynamics, AMISOM is currently considered to be the lynchpin of security in South Central Somalia–due to its size, acquired knowledge about local communities, and well-trained and disciplined troops.
But there will be a time in the near- or long-term future in which countries contributing to AMISOM decide to withdraw, and regardless of this contingency, Somalia’s security forces must be improved to meet the needs of the country.
Somalia’s Army and Police
Somalia’s president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud stated that his first three priorities are “security, security, and security,” emphasizing the critical nature of the problem.
The international community holds similar concerns. Somalia’s security forces have received training from the U.S., Turkey, the EU, Uganda, and Ethiopia.
But fragmented and competing efforts to improve Somalia’s army and police have not created a cohesive and effective apparatus.
Much of Somalia’s army and police forces comprise of warlord militias and paramilitary groups (like ASWJ)–which hold clan loyalties and receive significant support from foreign sources, such as Ethiopia.
The lack of centralized leadership between these groups with varying interests and loyalties has made it difficult to implement a comprehensive security plan.
For example, in Kismayo, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe’s (predominately Ogaden clan) Ras Kamboni (RK) movement is taking the lead in security and political operations–which has caused an ongoing row between RK and the Somali government over who should be in charge of restructuring the Jubbaland region. The perception of an Ogaden-dominated Jubbaland also has unsettled some clans in the area.
The independence of RK as an authority in Kismayo is a reality, despite a recent statement from SNA commander Abdulqadir Sheikh Ali Dini, who tried to downplay RK’s influence, asserting:
“All the armed forces in the Jubba regions are members of the national armed forces and there is no Raas Kaambooni army which operates in Jubba regions.”
Even if coordination was improved, the SNA’s top-heavy hierarchy–consisting of some 50 generals with questionable qualifications–is an untenable system to manage security in highly sensitive local environments that require local buy-in and trust from the community.
Moving forward, President Mohamud will not only have to tackle security in terms of a plan against al-Shabaab, but also the issue of reforming the security forces in South Central Somalia.
It may be necessary to mandate early retirement for several generals in the SNA in order to make room for a more balanced security structure with more diverse low- and middle-ranking leaders that hail from the communities to which they are providing security.
Also, the question of how to optimize coordination between various warlord and clan militias under a national agenda (and without foreign interference) will also be a difficult task–especially if forces continue to go unpaid by the Somali government.
Thus, Uganda’s threat of withdrawal from AMISOM–whether an empty threat or mere distraction from its alleged support to DRC rebels–is still very relevant to the future of security in Somalia, and this should not go unrecognized.