pervasive threat

Uganda: Corruption, no quality control…factors in AU Somalia mission attack

By Edward Nyembo

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Posted on June 7, 2023 08:00

 © African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) peacekeepers outside their convoy in Mogadishu, Somalia, after being hit by a bomb on 3 April, 2023.   (Abukar Mohamed Muhudin / Anadolu Agency via AFP)
African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) peacekeepers outside their convoy in Mogadishu, Somalia, after being hit by a bomb on 3 April, 2023. (Abukar Mohamed Muhudin / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

A deadly al-Shabaab raid where militants overran a base of Ugandan soldiers in Somalia serving under African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has pushed Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni into an unpleasant discussion of how corruption could have cost the nation dearly.

The 26 May raid on a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Buulo Mareer, Lower Shabelle, 120 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu, Somalia, is said to be the deadliest attack on Ugandans since 2007 when the country deployed.

At least 54 Ugandan soldiers were killed in the raid, including a commander, identified as Lt Col Edward Nyororo, according to Museveni, who spoke over the weekend. The number of fatalities could be significantly higher, according to several reports. An unspecified number of soldiers were captured alive by the militants.

“The terrorists were many, about 800 or so,” Museveni said in a statement. “Some soldiers panicked, got disorganised giving an advantage to al-Shabaab and they “did not perform as expected”.

Four days after the attack, ATMIS soldiers were still pursuing the militants to recover military equipment looted from the base. It took a week to fully regain control of the base and its vicinity.

Museveni named two other commanders, Major Oluka and Major Obbo, who were taken into custody and will be court-martialed for allegedly telling the soldiers to withdraw instead of to return fire.

What’s the problem? Corruption

Museveni has cited corruption, particularly in the selection and deployment of soldiers to Somalia, as a key factor that contributed to the disastrous raid by al-Shabaab.

In Uganda, the salary of a private – the lowest ranked soldier – is as little as $1000 annually, yet when deployed to Somalia, they earn as much as $10,000 annually, Museveni said. According to him, it is because the “UN gives big allowances” that the selection process has been compromised.

“Some of these people, they don’t look at the mission, they look at the money,” Museveni said in an address to ruling party legislators. “Because of the money, it seems some of our people who are selecting people to go to Somalia, they don’t do what we were doing in the beginning,” he said, in reference to combat units initially trained for field work.

“It seems at some stage, some of the people who organise, they put secretaries, bodyguards, personal assistants, they put their names there and create a sort of adhoc instead of having integral units. They create ad hoc units made of bodyguards, cooks, they say this is now a battalion,” he said.

Battalions arrive without critical personnel, such as riflemen and drivers, tank operators

This corruption is widely known, an African Union official who did not want to be named tells The Africa Report. Battalions arrive without critical personnel, such as riflemen and drivers, tank operators, among others.

Soldiers are trained for six to nine months before being deployed. However, some soldiers “find themselves replaced weeks before completion of training” due to corruption.

“We have been receiving these kinds of complaints,” the official said.

Daily Monitor, a local publication in Uganda, reported a curious case of a commanding officer of the Forward Operating Base overrun by al-Shabaab. According to the report, until last month, he was an officer who had been deployed to Karamoja to fight cattle rustlers. Questions abound as to how he ended up in Somalia.

Another problem that has been identified, the official said, is soldiers buying their way to not only get selected, but be placed in specific positions. He says a clerk bribed a recruitment officer so that he could be deployed to Somalia and put in charge of resources, such as fuel, which can be stolen and sold.

On arrival in Mogadishu, the secretary was deployed as a secretary. “He said ‘no, we agreed that you take me to the Forward Operating Bases. Why are you keeping me here in Mogadishu? I paid my money’. The guy pulled a gun and shot the lieutenant and then shot himself. Can you imagine that incident? We [were told] the facts,” said the AU official.

Over the 16 years of the Somalia mission, there have been frequent cases of Uganda soldiers selling military equipment. In 2013, rank-and-file soldiers told Museveni damning stories of commanders selling guns and their food rations. Some Ugandan soldiers were arrested in 2016 by Somalia police after they were found selling military supplies at a market.

No combat assessment

The AU is not involved in readiness assessment, the AU official says. It doesn’t look at the file of the soldiers to understand where their prior deployment areas are.

If a government tells you he is a major, he has served 21 years, who are you to question the state

“The AU doesn’t check whether someone is a good machine gun operator [or] a good tank operator. That is left to the troop-contributing countries,” the official says.

“If a government tells you he is a major, he has served 21 years, who are you to question the state?” the official says.

The regional body instead focuses on ensuring that soldiers are well-versed with UN human rights due diligence policy, Somalia’s political history and conflict, culture, international humanitarian law, child protection in peace support operations, and protection of civilians.

In an interview in April, AU Commission for Somalia Chairperson’s Special Representative Mohamed El-Amine Souef said the mission has suffered an estimated death toll of 3,500 over the past 16 years, noting that Burundian and Ugandan troops had the highest casualties.

Mohamed Husein Gaas, director of Raad Peace Research Institute in Mogadishu, tells The Africa Report that absence of quality control within the mission raises serious concerns and undermines its overall effectiveness. “President Museveni’s candid assessment of corruption and the deployment of ill-prepared individuals highlights the urgent need for rectification,” he says.

“It is imperative to address these shortcomings with unwavering determination,” he says.

It’s only implementation of stringent quality control measures, conducted thorough vetting processes, and upholding the highest standards of professionalism that will help the mission to restore trust, ensure competence, and fulfil its mandate, says Gaas.

As Somalia readies to take charge

The raid came as ATMIS plans to wind down the mission. Previously called the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the mission changed to ATMIS last year in preparation for complete withdrawal by the end of 2024.

Before the end of June 2023, the 18,586-troop mission will be reduced by 2,000 troops. A further 3,000 soldiers are expected to be withdrawn by December 2023. Another batch will withdraw in June 2024 with the final exit of ATMIS scheduled for December 2024.

Gaas says the al-Shabaab raid poses a significant challenge to Somalia’s security as the national army prepares to completely take over when ATMIS departs.

“The incident serves as a stark reminder that Somalia requires substantial support and assistance to effectively combat al-Shabaab. Without direct support to Somali security forces, it becomes increasingly difficult to eliminate or decisively defeat this pervasive threat,” he says.

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