In June 2013, Nicholas Kay, the then United Nations special representative for Somalia, was outside the international organisation’s heavily fortified compound in Mogadishu for a brief meeting when Al Shabaab staged a surprise assault.
The Al Qaeda-linked militants blew up a pickup truck rigged with explosives at the compound’s entrance.
Guards’ lifeless bodies laid in a pool of blood. More than two people including UN staff were killed.
Fragments from the explosion ripped apart windows of several offices and shook the buildings in the compound.
Six months earlier, the then United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, had made a surprise visit to Mogadishu and pledged to move the UN political office for Somalia from Nairobi, Kenya.
Some of the few UN staff brought to Somalia quickly found refuge in a bunker at the compound which is close to Aden Abdulle International Airport.
UPDF Takes Charge
UN would later review its security procedures, tightening access controls, scrutinizing profiles of guests and enrolling UPDF to provide all-round security for its premises and staff.
In 2015, the United Nations Guard Unit (UNGU), tasked with protecting UN compounds in Mogadishu to assist the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) carry out their mandate, was formed.
Currently, the UN compound is secured by Uganda forces – right from the main gate.
A high ranking official said some of the forces deployed at the facility are drawn from Uganda’s elite Special Forces Command (SFC).
“Some have served in UPDF Special forces for many years,” recalled an officer.
They have been to the battlefields in Somalia, South Sudan and Karamoja for the disarmament campaign.
They have fought terrorists and eliminated snipers holed up in Mogadishu buildings.
They also boast extensive experience in VIP protection.
Some teams provide counter terrorism support services.
Lt. Colonel Nathan Bainomugisha, the current commander of UNGA 6, takes no chances.
A stout field commander, Bainomugisha has served in the military for the last 21 years. He is a man of a few words.
Earlier this year, seven mortars landed inside the UN compound in Mogadishu, on New Year’s Day, injuring two UN staff members and one contractor.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Bainomugisha’s key roles include deterring and protecting UN personnel and infrastructure against armed attacks including patrolling inside and in the immediate vicinity of UN compounds.
The Ugandan peacekeepers are also trained to provide a “rapid extraction and evacuation capability for UN personnel” in case of an attack.
Bainomugisha describes himself as a “humble, disciplined and skilled officer.”
He has specialized skills in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency operations.
Bainomugisha also has since held various command and staff responsibilities as prior to this deployment he served as a battalion commander.
“We have personnel, equipment and support,” said Bainomugisha at his office.
“So we are always ready to take up any challenges that come our way,” he added, with clenched fists.
A few metres away from his office are several armoured fighting vehicles complete with open-topped weapons.
The boast a high level protection for the engine, sidewalls, roof, windshield, underbody and doors in case of an attack.
The trucks enable Ugandan soldiers to rapidly respond to emergency security situations.
“This is our quick reaction force,” said Bainomugisha.
He said the force is rolled into action “when UN staff face an imminent security threat.”
As soon as Bainomugisha ordered the force commander to move, Ugandan soldiers quickly board the armoured vehicles which speed off to counter a security threat.
Gunners firmly take charge of their machineguns or automatic grenade launchers above the troop compartment.
But soldiers used to Uganda’s cool weather have to acclimatize to the scorching sun in Somalia.
“However, there are challenges of weather because here in Mogadishu it is really hotter,” admits Bainomugisha.
Water trucks maintain supply at the UNGU base for soldiers to remain hydrated.
Asked about Ugandan soldiers’ security, Bainomugisha responded: “They are very safe. They are working under a good commander. They are trained and prepared to take up any the task.”
He further said before deployment, Ugandan soldiers undertake specialized training.
“They are prepared, trained and skilled for the task of guarding the mission,” he added.
Most importantly, Ugandan soldiers operating in Somalia grapple with payment delays.
In some instances, they spend over eight months without allowances from AMISOM.
This affects their morale while on duty.
Uganda’s Deputy Ambassador to Somalia, Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha said the situation was being handled. He blamed funders for the delays.
“If soldiers have food and other basic services, they can work. However, they have families to cater for and expectations which should be met,” said Mugisha in Somalia last week.
Each of the soldiers under UNGA earns a monthly allowance of $1,410.
According to defence spokesperson Brig Richard Karemire, “$200 is deducted from $1,410 to cater for the soldier’s pre-deployment training and other administration expenses related to the mission.”
Therefore, a soldier under the UN programme takes home $1,210 per month.
As of April 2019, there were 530 Ugandan “Blue Helmets” (63 women, 467 men) serving in the UN contingent.
The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) has been providing troops for the UNGU since 2015; this being the fifth rotation of forces who serve for one year.
This means in a year, a soldier under UN earns $14,520 (Shs 52m) from the Somali mission alone, enough money to construct a decent house outside Kampala.
It also implies that for every rotation of about 530 UPDF soldiers deployed to guard the UN compound and staff, the Ugandan economy gets a total injection of $8.9m (Shs 32.7bn).
This figure does not include basic UPDF salaries for the soldiers which Karemire said are “promptly paid.”
For UPDF soldiers under AMISOM, each receives a gross monthly pay of $828. However, because this is a smaller figure compared to UNGA’s, only $100 is deducted from the monthly pay for pre-mission training and other expenses related to the mission.
This leaves the soldier with $728. Of this amount, $100 is further deducted and handed to the soldier to meet simple personal needs. At the end of the month, the soldier’s account is credited with $628.
“But this is subject to the disbursement of funds by African Union received from European Union. This is the same case with UN (which faces similar challenges),” said Karemire.
In our next articles under the theme ‘The Ugandan Soldier’, we report on some of UPDF’s most intense battles in Somalia; training of Somalia forces to take charge of their country’s security; and consolidating peace in Mogadishu.
Read our previous story on Somalia war below: