UPDF soldiers, their weapons leveled, watch warily armoured SUVs chauffeuring United Nations and AMISOM staff passby.
One of the soldiers holding his index finger on a trigger of an AK 47 assault rifle alerts our driver to reduce speed.
Our particulars are scrutinized before a soldier picks his walkie talkie to confirm instructions to allow us inside a heavily-fortified compound.
Several metal roof houses with protruding communication cables dot the compound.
Just like many other secured compounds, the office of the Ugandan Ambassador to Somalia, Retired General Nathan Mugisha, boasts a bunker.
It serves as shelter for staff in case of an attack by militants.
Mugisha, a battle-hardened general who fought as a rebel in Uganda’s National Resistance Army (NRA) before serving as 4th Division Commander in Gulu, commanded the fiercest battles in Somalia between 2009 – 2011.
Under General Mugisha’s command, AMISOM repelled the “Ramadan Offensive” launched by al-Shabaab during August 2010.
He also spearheaded the “Anti-insurgence offensive” in early 2011, operations that saw AMISOM take approximately 50 percent of Mogadishu city from Al Shabaab extremists.
This vast military experience has taught him a lesson – the barrel of a gun has a limit on delivering peace in Somalia.
He believes Somalia’s problems can be resolved politically.
“The problem of Somalia is not security,” says Mugisha, “insecurity is a consequence of the failed political line of operation.”
He says the central government and federal states need to resolve their political differences amicably to pave way for the pacification of the war-torn country.
“If that is not resolved, even if you brought 100,000 AMISOM troops, they will not solve this problem. This problem is solvable provided we get the political line of operation right,” said Mugisha.
In 2018, United Nations warned that the stand-off between the Federal Member States and the Federal Government may well paralyze efforts to help Somalia get back on its feet.
It called for political consensus and compromise among Somali leaders at the national level — both the executive and legislative — and particularly between the central Government and Federal member states.
Somalia’s national electoral cycle in 2020 and 2021 offers an opportunity to advance decisively the process of democratization.
Modern Somalia emerged from the reunification of two territories—British Somaliland and the former Italian Somaliland—at independence in 1960.
The independence constitution, drafted in 1960 and approved in a referendum in 1961, established a parliamentary system of government.
Following a coup d’état led by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre in 1969, this constitution and its institutions were suspended until 1979 when a new constitution was drafted and approved via referendum.
The Constitution of 1979 established a presidential system of government. However, power remained concentrated in Barre’s military regime—amidst growing clan-based internal conflict— until an internal Somali rebellion overthrew the regime in 1991.
Somalia’s disintegration and the ensuing internal conflicts attracted significant regional and international efforts to end the war, restore peace and rebuild the state.
A new parliament and government has been installed since 2017 with the leadership promising to finalize the process before the 2020 elections.
A draft electoral law is under review by the Federal Parliament and the National Independent Electoral Commission is preparing for voter registration.
Mugisha said Somalia will continue to walk a tight rope as long as the Federal government and regional states fight for power and resources.
He said more attention needs to be focused on resolving political contestations, building solid institutions and infrastructure to deliver social services to the people.
“We have the troops here. The militias are about 20,000. But they are not integrated. They are demoralised. They are not vetted. They are not commanded properly,” said Mugisha.
“That’s where the problem is. This problem of Somalia is very easy. You see how we solved the problem of Joseph Kony. It was big until we went there. You saw what happened. In 2006 we said ‘bye bye’ to Kony. Has he ever come back? I am telling you the problem here is very easy. If the federal government decides to solve the political line; if the international community helps the federal government to get political operational line correct, Somalia will be okay.”
Mugisha was referring to the Ugandan government’s political mobilisation and reconstruction of Northern Uganda to deny Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader Joseph Kony a sanctuary and operational area for his rebel activities.
Mugisha gave an example of Marka, a coastal town in Lower Shabelle which has since seen an end to clan fights.
A new port will soon be constructed in the once bustling town, according to the Federal government.
“What you saw in Marka is a rare thing,” Mugisha told journalists in Mogadishu last week.
“It is taking place there because of our history. Our people know how to mobilise. It was not done by anyone else. It was mobilised by our people. They mobilised these communities, they ceased fighting. They put down their guns. All this work was done by our troops,” said Mugisha.
“And the leadership there was very cooperative. We need to do this everywhere so that all those who are fighting lay down their weapons. And all these guns should be turned against al Shabaab.”
Despite restoring peace and security in Marka, UPDF remains heavily deployed in the area to provide protection to civilians and the local leaders.
The deputy ambassador’s comments came against the backdrop of the international calls for the drawdown of AMISOM forces in Somalia.
Renewing authorization for AMISOM for one year ahead of national elections in 2020, United Nations Security Council ordered a reduction in uniformed personnel by 1,000 in line with the plan to transfer such responsibilities to Somali security forces.
AMISOM forces are required to conduct a gradual handover of security responsibilities to Somali forces, who aim to take the lead by 2021.
However, Amb Mugisha said Somali forces are yet to be fully prepared to take over full control of their security.
“They are saying AMISOM should draw down but at what cost? Money will be cut but what will be the consequences? It is not about money,” he cautioned.
He gave an example of pirates whose activities were defeated by AMISOM.
“Piracy has reduced. Where have they (pirates) gone? It is because AMISOM increased activity on the ground. And now that the grounds are going to be lost, piracy will come back. I don’t think that going around in the waters there, has removed pirates,” Mugisha warned.
The US-based non-governmental One Earth Future Foundation, in a study on naval piracy, estimated that Somali pirates extorted some $177 million in ransom in 2009 and $238 million the following year.
Including the costs of higher insurance premiums, re-routing ships, anti-piracy security and the impact on regional economies, the total annual costs ranged between $7 billion and $12 billion, the study revealed.
Mugisha warned that “Pirates are not aquatic animals. Pirates are human beings. They stay on land. They plan on land. They only go on water to execute operations. As AMISOM will be losing ground, you should expect piracy to increase and we will go back on the drawing board again.”
The drawdown of AMISOM, if not well managed, Mugisha warned, could spark yet another “exodus” of refugees to many parts of the world including Europe.
“It will be automatic,” cautioned the thin bespectacled envoy.
“You say Amisom is going; before AMISOM gets out, all of them (people) will be out. Just expect that. No doubt. You go build bigger walls; bigger fences,” Mugisha said in an indirect warning to Europe which is grappling with a refugee and migrant crisis as a result of conflicts in Libya and Yemen.
“They (refugees) will come (to Europe) in waves. They will come. That’s a sure deal. If AMISOM was to close; even if they hear that AMISOM is going; they will not wait for al Shabaab. They know what will be done to them. They will do like 2010. It will be worse, because who will wait for al Shabaab to come when they know that you were staying with AMISOM? There will be an exodus. Before AMISOM leaves, you’ll feel the impact.”
Since 1990, thousands of Somalis have either left their home countries as economic migrants or fled as refugees.
Most of them have spent months, if not years, in refugee camps in Kenya and other neighbouring countries.
Nearly 200,000 Somalis refugees have fled to Yemen with around 50,000 fleeing to the UAE.
TRT recently reported that there were around 150,000c Somalis in Canada, 100,000 in the UK and another 85,000 in the US.
Within Somalia, more than a million people are internally displaced.
Ethiopia hosts 4.6 million Somalis, while Kenya has more than 2 million Somali refugees.
After a series of Al Shabaab attacks, the Kenyan government recently started ordering Somalis back into refugee camps and forced the rest to return to Somalia.
Hardly a year has passed without Somali asylum seekers trekking dangerously to one region of the world or the other.
Somali youth, particularly men, have unfortunately been caught at the centre of this mass illegal migration.
In 2017, International Organization for Migration estimates that almost 100,000 migrants crossed into Yemen from the Horn of Africa.
Mugisha said more work needs to be done to guarantee security of Somalia before AMISOM’s exit.
“Those who will remain; how will they manage the situation? That means we will have to lose ground. It shrinks. That would be handing over to al Shabaab. And of course we will have problems. We have communities which are very supportive. For example the communities in Barawe, over 90 percent want peace. As I speak, if there is any place we would draw down, Barawe will have to go. So what happens to that community? It means people will be displaced,” he emphasised.
“There is pressure from our partners but the reality on ground is different. The circumstances still warrant our presence. We don’t see preparation or appetite for troop generation to take charge if we are to leave in the next two years.”
Asked if AMISOM was doing enough to train and equip Somalis to take charge of their security, Mugisha responded: ‘“We said let us train people who will sustain this success. But the international community says ‘no’, your work is mentoring. But whom do you mentor? In Barawe, those people have never been with forces. But it is a strategic point. And they are willing to bring their sons and daughters to serve. This is a catch 22 situation.”’
UPDF trains Somali soldiers in their country and Uganda.
Turkey is training regular troops. United States is focusing on training Special Forces units for each state in Somalia.
So far, 20,000 troops have been trained in the last few years.
However, the vast country whose size is 637,655 kilometres with a population of 15 million people, needs more security forces to guarantee its national security.
Mugisha also challenged the Somali government to swiftly put in place and strengthen functional institutions to deliver justice and social amenities.
“Basic humanitarian services such as healthcare, road infrastructure and education should be provided such that people recognise who is government. We can win people’s hearts… But the judiciary is not in areas which we have captured. People still take their cases to al Shabaab. And that is a vote of no confidence in the establishment,” said Mugisha.
“It’s a question of time. If you don’t replace such infrastructure, you will find that al Shabaab still calls the shots.”
Pressed to speak out on Somalia’s preparedness for the 2020 presidential elections, Mugisha observed: “Elections have been going on even in difficult circumstances. They (Somali’s Federal government and regional states) are yet to agree on which type of government to use – universal suffrage or parliamentary system or both. There is pulling and pushing on who controls what; boundaries; if you have forces, where do they stop; who controls the military – the division of power between central government and states… ”
He said during previous elections, the Parliament building was shelled 25 times.
“The situation is very okay compared to the past. There will be challenges but elections will take place.”