By Joshua Kato
"I hope that is just a bad dream that will come to pass,” says Abdunor Ahmed, a Somali based in Kisenyi, Uganda, on his view about Uganda’s intention to withdraw her forces from Somalia.
This is the wish of nearly every Somali, obviously apart from the militant al-Shabaab group.
For the last two weeks, Uganda has been threatening to withdraw from Somalia if a leaked UN report blaming Uganda for supporting the M23 rebel outfit in DRC is published. Uganda vehemently denies supporting the rebel outfit.
But in the event that Uganda leaves, the likely scenario is that AMISOM will cease to exist in the short run and Somalia will once again plunge into chaos.
Composition of the mission
Uganda took the lead in the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. As they were deploying in 2007, Ethiopian forces were withdrawing just after a year in Somalia.
The Ethiopians had chased away the Islamic Courts rule in Somalia, but had in return created a situation that led to the birth of al-Shabaab.
The mandate that authorised the AMISOM force deployment barred countries neighbouring Somalia from contributing to AMISOM.
The first Ugandan troops landed in 2007 to a barrage of mortar shells. The unit had 1,500 troops, supported by 12 tanks and APCs.
When the mission was set by IGAD and the African Union, the agreed troop deployment was 8,000. In late 2007, Burundi followed with a battalion of about 800 troops.
It has been very difficult to get countries to deploy to Somalia and that is why a withdraw by any of the deployed countries may lead to the collapse of the mission.
The current deployment stands at around 17,600 troops, of which 6,700 are Ugandan, 4,700 are Kenyan while 4,400 are from Burundi. Others include Djibouti with 300 out of a promised 800.
Nigeria has deployed mainly policemen, just like Malawi, Senegal, Ghana, Zambia and Cameroon that have less than five soldiers each-mainly as liaison officers.
The deployments show that Uganda has got at least 2,000 troops more than any other country in Somalia.
“Uganda is the highest contributor of troops to AMISOM,” says UPDF spokesman Col. Felix Kulayigye.
When they were first deployed in 2007, they had a defensive mandate of securing at least five key installations within Mogadishu, including State House, the sea-port, K-4 junction, parliament and the airport.
“We achieved this objective in the first few years,” Ugandan contingent commander Brig. Micheal Ondoga says.
For the first three years — 2007 to 2010, only Uganda and Burundi had troops on the ground. By July 2010, the total deployment was around 4,500 of which Uganda had 3,000.
However, after the militants attacked Kampala in July 2010, the AU/UN agreed to Uganda’s demands that more troops be deployed to Somalia.
Subsequently, Uganda added another half brigade of around 1,700 soldiers while Burundi added two more battalions. Promises of troops from Sierra-leone (800) are yet to materialise.
It was not until early 2011 when the initial 2007 agreed troop strength of 8,000 was achieved. However, by that time according to commanders, the requirement had risen to at least 20,000 troops.
“We are now moving out of Mogadishu and we need soldiers to move forward and take care of our rear,” then Ugandan contingent commander Brig. Paul Lokech said.
Again, it was Uganda and Burundi that agreed to add more troops into Somalia. Other countries continued to pay lip service.
In Uganda, among others veterans were mobilised, re-oriented and deployed as part of UGABAG IX+.
It is because of these deployments that AMISOM forces finally moved out of Mogadishu, captured Afgooye in May 2012, Balad, Marka and are now poised outside Baidoa in central Somalia.
In October 2011, Kenya entered Somalia and by February 2012, they had been admitted into AMISOM. However, Kenya’s main role is in the south of Somalia-around 500km away from Mogadishu.
Neighbours step in
In September 2011, militants started a kidnapping spree across the border with Kenya, apparently targeting westerners and those affiliated to western organisations there.
Some analysts believed al-Shabaab were involved because the militants controlled much of the area along the Kenya-Somalia border.
But it will be a difficult task for the Kenyans to move up north to replace the withdrawing Ugandans. With around 40,000 troops, the KDF will obviously be over stretched.
In fact, the Kenyan strategy right from the start in October 2011 was to create a buffer area between main land Kenya and chaotic Somalia.
Rather than go up north to Mogadishu, the withdraw of the Ugandans will give Kenyans the reason to concentrate on creating this buffer region, than get mirred up in Mogadishu.
“Our initial objective was to create a buffer zone between Kenya and Somalia. If AMISOM collapses with the pull out of Uganda, we shall revert to our original mission of creating this buffer,” a Kenyan officer said. Kenya is now in charge of Sector II in southern Somalia.
Getting troops to quickly replace the Ugandans will be a very difficult task. When the mission was launched over nine years ago, several other countries including Nigeria, South-Africa and Senegal agreed to send troops to Somalia.
However, they have not met their promise todate. Sierra-leone has been preparing a battalion for the last one year, but they are yet to be deployed in the war-torn African country.
Ethiopia has been making sojourns into Somalia since 2006. However, like Kenya, they are also more concerned about their own border security rather than peace across Somalia.
This is why for many years, they have kept a close eye over areas near them like Bakool, Bay, Lower and Middle Shabelle. Other areas of Somalia like Punt-land will also move on and become independent countries.