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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

We are Paying the Price for a one-man mission in Somalia

When Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in mid-2007 made the solitary choice of sending our boys to Somalia to buttress the shaky Transitional Federal Government of Sheik Sherif, there were muted sounds in Kampala from isolated opposition politicians deriding him.

Parliament, which by law is decreed to okay such external military deployments, was never even accorded the courtesy of being consulted. But being the Ugandans we were, we all kept quite. We even began to cheer when our boys in the different UGABAG/AMISOM series came back with a few extra dollars, occasionally, with light-skinned women, many shipped through Nairobi as innocent visitors to Uganda. (We learnt our lessons from the Congolese women, you know).

Then, the news began trickling in. Our boys were dying in roadside bomb attacks and ambushes. We were told that was an occupational hazard—and we stomached.

But the tables have been turned on us. When with Ethiopia we helped dismantle the Union of Islamic Courts—that many watchers agreed had stabilised Somalia better that Sherif’s jokers—it became clear we were courting trouble with the extremists. It is therefore not surprising that al Shabaab after issuing a couple of threats to Kampala, finally attacked last Sunday, leaving over 70 innocent Ugandans and foreigners dead.

When on Sunday night I received an SMS from a workmate that a bomb had gone off at Kyadondo Rugby Club, killing scores of people, I couldn’t believe it. I had just returned from Mbale that afternoon and my plan was to be at Kyadondo for the World Cup final game. However, the fatigue had set in, compelling me to stay at home.

It was past midnight but I had to dash to office. My deputy was in charge but I knew this called for extra hands. When I got to office, the first pictures that came in left me dazed. Young, youthful people in their prime had had their lives abruptly ended. Many still sat on their chairs, necks cut, some still holding their beer bottles. It was grisly.

Later, at about 4am, as the driver took me home, I kept wondering, “Did these people even know what sins they were paying for? Did young people in their prime have to pay for sins of others, probably enclosed in the comfort of their well-guarded mansions?”

As expected the al Shabaab claimed responsibility. The wheel had come full circle. Three years later, Kampala was paying for the sins of one man.

The politics of Uganda going to Somalia is simple. After the 1994 Black Hawk tragedy, the US knew Somalia as an enemy ground—but one they would not risk on their own. With al Qaeda moving to recruit from there—it was necessary to have a stooge regime (Sheik Sherif) and an equally gullible back-up force (read UPDF) to prop the regime there.

We might claim this was under the auspices of the AU—but where are the other eight or so countries that promised to send troops? Why did the likes of Ghana and Nigeria back-out, yet the UPDF and later Burundi (Which probably needs more salvation than Somalia) went into Somalia brazenly?

With US support for Uganda waning, courtesy of a growing dictatorial regime and spiralling corruption, Museveni had to find a means to the American hearts; our boys and now our lives being the sacrifice.

Question is: Is it worth it considering that Kenya, which has probably suffered a bigger brunt of Somalia’s disintegration, still won’t send soldiers to the Horn? Is it worth it?

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