By Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda
As I wrote this, I was seated just near Mogadishu International Airport where the AMISOM base camp is located. My latest trip to Mogadishu had finally started at 9:00am after a rather long wait on July 16.
I had last been to Somalia on my last tour of duty in July 2012. So, this was exactly one year since I had left the Horn of Africa country.
The landing was smooth but the flight was quite noisy. This is a cargo plane that UPDF uses to supply the troops. With wires hanging in its ceiling, the plane reminds me that the UN has not acted fast on providing an administration plane despite incessant calls to provide one. By this, I wasn’t surprised because that is your UN.
Dr Opiyo Oloya, who came along with me can’t wait to land. After three hours of flight, he finally muses: Are we about there? Yes, but we still have about half an hour to go, I replied.
Although he didn’t seem amused by having to do another half an hour of noise, he sighed in relief when the pilot suddenly started descending. That is when I knew I had come back to Mogadishu, a city that is rising into the sky.
My first sight of the high rise buildings that dominate the horizon was simply unbelievable. Jazeera hotel is such an imposing view for the eyes to miss. Next to it is another huge five star structure overlooking the UNDP compound. Streets are full of jam and shops are open.
School children wave to a passing AMISOM convoy as a policeman helps them cross the road. It all looks normal and working. This is the new Somalia that AMISOM has delivered.
Although the noisy plane had landed, the story had not ended there. As soon as we touched the ground, an African Express jet swooped out of the skies to land only five minutes later. No sooner had it landed, than an Air Uganda plane took off immediately.
This was followed by UN planes that keep landing and taking off. In reality, planes are separated by 10 to 20 minutes. This is what you see at Aden Ade International Airport. An airport that used to receive one plane a day is now struggling with expansion to cater for the ever increasing traffic. That is your Somalia today.
Having been to Somalia first in 2007 and later again in 2011, I see all this in amazement. A mission that was once dubbed “Mission Dead on Arrival” has proved everyone wrong and is providing hope to the children of Somalia. This reminds me of one thing that believing in Africa is important.
In a place where the mightest failed with all the equipment and resources, African forces have made the difference. Somalia now has a four year interim government, a functional parliament and a judiciary. This was unfathomable at the time we landed on Mar 6, 2007.
After their forced withdraw from Mogadishu in Aug 2011, the Al Qaeda backed militants have basically taken the back foot. However, the attack on the UNDP compound earlier this month in which four UN staff died is a stark reminder that it is not over yet. Gen Andrew Gutii, the AMISOM Force Commander doesn’t mince his words.
“They still control some parts along the coast but also some inland territory. Baraawe, Caadale, Ceel Dere, Hobyo and a couple of others areas still afford them a route to bring in arms and export charcoal”.
The Force Commander also indicated that lack of force enablers such as helicopters has affected operation tempo. “…our lines of operation have stretched covering over 500km. How do we re-supply troops without helicopters? How do we evacuate casualties in case of injury? The insurgents still occupy territory and we need these resources to route them out”.
For now, the message is clear to all: The job in Somalia can be done. Halfhearted efforts must end and we rise up to the challenge. Like they say, in the end we will not remember the noise of our enemies but the silence of those we called our friends.
The writer is the Defence & UPDF Spokesman – Uganda