On this day, 10 years ago, the first batch of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) landed in the war-torn Mogadishu where they have been fighting the Al-Shabaab Islamic militants in one of the most daring peace support operations in the world today.
By mid-2007, the UPDF, which was the first and only force at that time to deploy there under the African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom), was controlling less than 10 per cent of the battered capital Mogadishu. However, subsequently other countries joined the AU peace operations and deployed troops to reinforce the UPDF in Somalia with each force or group of forces allocated designated areas for own command and control. Today, the UPDF has pushed the Al-Shabaab to the farthest point—about 200km away from Mogadishu.
In the west of Mogadishu, UPDF has bases in Lego, Afgooye and in southwest, they have forward bases in Baraawe, about 190km from Mogadishu.
Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir region and Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions while Kenyan troops are responsible for Sector Two comprising Lower and Middle Jubba regions.
Sector Three comprising Bay and Bakool as well as Gedo (Sub Sector 3) is under Ethiopian command. Djiboutian forces are in charge of Sector 4, which covers Hiiraan and Galgaduud areas while Burundian forces are in charge of Sector 5, which covers the Middle Shabelle region.
Djiboutian forces are in charge of Sector 4 that comprises Hiiraan and Galgaduud areas while Burundian forces control Sector 5, which covers the Middle Shabelle region.
The entry of the Ugandan troops into Mogadishu triggered a turnaround of the capital ruined by war and anarchy. The hitherto deserted Mogadishu streets are now buzzing business hubs. Shops open early and close late. The beautiful beaches that were once no-go zones are now coveted leisure centres. Streets have flashing lights, the displaced people are returning home and new high-rise buildings are decorating the horizons of the capital.
However, it would be reckless to say or believe that Al-Shabaab is beaten and baked. Although they have lost their main bases, they remain resilient and capable of inflicting harm of significant havoc. They still possess capacity to carry out deadly attacks of enormous proportions in the captured areas and direct raids on isolated or far-flung AMISOM defensive positions.
The foregoing notwithstanding, the overall security situation in Somalia and particularly Mogadishu has continued to improve every passing day. This is manifested in the diminishing Al-Shabaab activities in the capital and other key centres across the country.
This has been brought about by the work of the UPDF and AU counterparts from other troop contributing countries.
Today livestock exports have resumed after 21 years in limbo; the capital city has seen the first gas station and flight arrivals of up to 40,000 per month; commercial maritime arrivals have increased and air traffic grows at an average of 20 per day.
To achieve this has not been a simple task. It’s no mean feat. The Amisom, which was initially a peacekeeping mission, had to metamorphose into a war-fighting operation because there was “no peace to keep”. They could not keep what did not exist. They had to first create the peace and think out how to keep it.
“We had to prepare for the worst. The environment was hostile. What we found on the ground was different from the expectations,” said Maj Gen Peter Elwelu, the commander of UPDF Land Forces, the commander of the first Ugandan contingent in Somalia in 2007.
The Al-Shabaab hostility in Mogadishu meant that the UPDF had to deploy combat artillery which are rarely applied under normal peacekeeping operations. The UPDF also had to deploy more troops to counter the Al-Shabaab viciousness. In 2007, Uganda had only 1,600 troops in Somalia but currently, there are more than 6,000 troops.
Maj Gen Elwelu was followed by commanders: Brig Geoffrey Golooba; Brig Bakasumba; Brig Katsigazi; Brig Michael Ondoga; Brig Paul Lokech; Brig Sam Okiding; Brig Dick Olum; Brig Sam Kavuma; and Brig Kayanja Muhanga.
According to UPDF records, a total of 44,999 soldiers have served in Somalia for the last 10 years both on repeat deployment and first-time deployment. Many have been to Somalia several times while others have served there once, but it could not be readily established how many of them have served on repeat deployment or first-time deployment. Some have served there twice or thrice.
The number of UPDF troops in Somalia started increasing in 2010 when Al-Shabaab intensified attacks against Uganda-manned bases. In 2010, the force was increased from 1,600 to 4,723. The number was increased again in 2011 as AMISOM prepared for the final assault on Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu and later spread its operations outside the capital. The UPDF increased its troop strength from 4,723 to 6,223. The same number remained until 2014 when it was reduced to 6,040.
Wages and revenue
Each of the 22,000 Amisom soldiers is entitled to $868 (Sh3,038,000) every month. However, the respective governments deduct $200 from each soldier as administration costs. This means a soldier takes home $668 per month. Earlier, between 2012 and 2014, each soldier was entitled to $1,028 before the European Union, which is the chief AU financier of AMISOM, cut the budget by 20 per cent.
In the case of Uganda, which has over 6,000 troops in Somalia, the government earns $1,208,000 every month from the soldiers’ allowance deductions. At the beginning of 2007, government was deducting $100 from $500 each soldier was earning. The allowances were later increased to $800 in 2009 and to $ 1,028 in 2012. The government accordingly also increased the monthly deductions to $200 that year, with each soldier taking home $828 between 2012 and 2015.
Between 2007 and 2011, government deducted a monthly fee of $100 from 14,246 who served in Somalia during that period. In the last 10 years, government has received $90,892,800 [Shs319 bn] as deductions from the soldiers’ allowances. The net pay to the soldiers in the last 10 years has grown to $385m [1.347 trillion].
Government also gets reimbursements from the UN for the wear-and-tear of its military equipment. According to sources, the United Nations pays $6 per day for a Sub-Machine Gun (SMG).
Every bullet that is fired is also paid for by the United Nations. According to the Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and Uganda, the UPDF manages and maintains all the equipment under the arrangement of Wet Lease arrangement. Different weapons including heavy equipment like tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) are deployed in Somalia.
However, sources say heavy weapons like tanks are not paid for because they are not on the list of UN-agreed weapons to be deployed in Somalia.
It’s not clear how much Uganda is paid for these military hardware but the Deputy Army Spokesperson Maj Henry Obbo said it’s money from these UN reimbursements that UPDF is going use to construct a modern hospital worth about Shs100bn for the army.
“The money we receive from the UN for use of our equipment will be used to construct a hospital in Mbuya,” he said.
There are no publicly available records of Uganda’s casualties in Somalia because the issue has been kept a secret by all Troop Contributing Countries yet the soldiers who die on duty as agreed to by the UN Security Council and AU deserve to have their sacrifice publicly recognized.
There have been speculation that between March 2007 and January 2015, Amisom lost “perhaps over 4,000” troops but the figure has been disputed by the troop contributing countries.
Maj Obbo said they cannot reveal the number of deaths among their troops nor the casualties of the enemy killed in battle.
“We cannot reveal the number [on our side] nor can we tell you how many Al-Shabaab fighters we have killed because we didn’t go to Somalia to kill but to help Somalis get peace,” he says. However there is some information about the Amisom casualty toll available at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yearbooks published for 2009 and 2014. Mr Paul Williams, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University who has done research projects on Amisom fatalities, says a study done by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in 2014 found that between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2013, Amisom lost 1,039 soldiers.
The figure was broken down as: 200 in 2009; 300 in 2010; 94 in 2011; 384 in 2012, and 261 in 2013.
Besides, during 2014, Amisom told SIPRI that it had suffered a further 69 fatalities as a result of hostile action, bringing the overall casualty total to 1,108 troops.
The six key points
1. 44,999 soldiers have served in Somalia for last 10 years including those on repeat deployment.
2. 59 Battalions have been deployed and fought in Somalia.
3. 10 Contingent commanders have served since 2007.
4. The net pay to the soldiers in the last 10 years is $385m [about1,385 trillion].
5. Government has made $90,892,800 (Shs327b) as deductions from the soldiers’ allowances.
6.Commanders: Maj Gen Elwelu was followed by commanders; Brig Geoffrey Golooba, Brig Jack Bakasumba, Brig Geoffrey Katsigazi, Brig Michael Ondoga,Brig Paul Lokech, Brig Sam Okiding,Brig Dick Olum, Brig Sam Kavuma, and Brig Kayanja Muhanga.
- Uganda AU soldiers in Mogadishu, the Somali capital recently.