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February 16, 2012

Uganda Warns Somali Leaders to Unite Ahead of Conference

by Ivan Broadhead

Leaders from 40 nations will join politicians from Somalia at a conference in London next Thursday, to support the war-ravaged state in its effort to achieve social and political security. However, Uganda - which provides the majority of peacekeepers in the country’s capital, Mogadishu - has warned Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that political infighting must stop if the conference is to realize its objectives.

Ugandan Foreign Minister Okello Henry Oryem - in Mogadishu for talks - is urging Somalis to make the most of the high-powered London meeting hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron

“[It] is an opportunity for Somalis to create a legitimate, transparent, all-inclusive democratic political system that is Somali-led, for the purpose of dealing with a post-transition period ... leading to a legitimate constitution, then democratic elections,” Oryem said.

The transitional government has long suffered internal divisions and is only mandated to govern those limited parts of Somalia that it controls until August this year. Executive and legislative branches of government are currently jostling for power as the roadmap for an effective post-conflict political system is negotiated.  

Oryem warned that his government sees these tensions as a significant impediment to achieving stability in Somalia after more than 20 years of war.   

“It’s very unfortunate these divisions are there. I met the speaker and leaders of those members of parliament," said Oryem. "We impressed upon them that they should stop being selfish and egoistic in dealing with national issues. They owe it to the Somali people.”

Since 2007, Uganda has provided the majority of soldiers that form the more than 9,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Working with Burundian and TFG forces, these troops are tasked with defeating the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, which this month announced it had formally become part of the al-Qaida network.

Major General Fred Mugisha, of the Ugandan Army, is the AMISOM commanding officer. He insists his troops remain unaffected by Somalia’s political infighting and the slow pace of political progress.

“It doesn’t affect our morale. Although there are questions you ask yourself in a country which is at war: When we have reached this critical moment of getting peace and you see people who are supposed to be leaders, divided, you start to ask many questions about the psyche of the same people,” Mugisha said.  

Despite his own concerns about leadership, Oryem insists Uganda remains committed to Somalia.

“Pan-Africanism is instilled in the leadership of Uganda," said Oryem. "That is why we are here. We cannot accept to see an African country become a failed state, people dying and the country go to waste while we have the capacity to assist. So we’re here, for as long as it takes and as long as the Somali people want us.”

Before Thursday’s London meeting, the United Nations Security Council will convene to vote on an expansion of the AMISOM force to up to more than 17,000 troops.
If ratified, Kenyan troops fighting al-Shabab in southern Somalia would be integrated into the AMISOM command.