Battle for Mogadishu; Ugandan family learns of son’s death from Internet

Mogadishu Skyline 2006
Image via Wikipedia

For the last two days, I have been trying to figure out the fate of one Ugandan peacekeeper in Somalia. Today is the sixth day of intense fighting in Mogadishu where the many soldiers from Burundi and Uganda have been killed and others captured by Al Shabaab.

This was after Somali government forces backed by African Union troops where Uganda has the bulk of the 8000 troops, launched a fresh offensive against Hard-line Al-Shabaab and seized some key bases in the capital Mogadishu.

In the Ugandan media, with all the election scandals going on, not much attention has been paid to the Mogadishu battle. Daily Monitor yesterday carried a story saying only two soldiers have so far been killed from the army side however Somali media claims at least 40 people, mainly soldiers were killed and 70 others wounded in fresh clashes of capturing positions in different parts of the Horn of African nation. Al Shabaab claim to be holding bodies of 20 AMISOM troops and number of others alive.

The lack of sources and reporters on the ground has made the Ugandan media deprive the Ugandan public  a clear picture of what’s going and many here don’t know the real human cost of this war.

I know the family of the killed peacekeeper and the relatives of the young man first got a phone call from Mogadishu from one of the peacekeepers saying he had been captured. So I tried to get the details of names of those killed, hoping he wasn’t among, in vain.

The  soldier at the end in Mogadishu said the 25 year-old soldier was with a group of 15 ,  11 of them were killed and four  others captured. It’s difficult to know the truth when you are in Kampala so I couldn’t get more details. The Ugandan military has so far said only two soldiers died in the battle. There’s belief among journalists here interested in the conflict that we can never  really know the actual number of those killed.­

After 48 hrs of searching for the truth, the relatives, whom I have talked to, later confirmed the death of their son through pictures on websites which are largely not visited by Ugandans. They  are holding a funeral without the body and no one from the military has contacted them.  Some bodies are still with Al Shabaab so it could be a long wait.

His immediate relatives saw gruesome images of the peacekeeper that Al Shabaab has availed to the media. Some of them show soldiers half naked, others with bodies being stepped on and there have been reports that many Ugandan and Burundian troops bodies have been dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

If you have followed the history of international interventions in Somalia you will remember that similar images of US soldiers being dragged in the streets during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu evoked outrage in USA and led to the withdraw of troops from the Horn.

So looking at these images of Ugandan soldiers I wonder why we are not riled or even interested in what’s going on. I wonder why the war in Somalia is not so much a talked about here. When will Ugandan leaders say enough! We have done our part in Somalia.

Reading one blogger’s report from Mogadishu makes my guts stiffen. “Ugandan peacekeepers were kicked, dragged, stoned and spat on” and he talks of another Ugandan soldier whose body was left to rot in Mogadishu’s notorious Baar Ubax junction.

There have been pictures of Burundian soldiers (PoW) captured by Al Shabaab and others of dead soldiers. Some captured soldiers have been asked to give recorded messages to Somali media.

AMISOM spokesman, Maj. Barigye Ba-hoku was quoted talking to a Somali radio that “No one swims in the sea without getting wet. We are ready to face the consequences of Somalia battle – whatever the cost!”  Whatever cost?  May be this is what military propaganda requires but I believe Uganda should be rethinking about the Somalia mission. Somalia has an ineffective government and army. In fact many Somali soldiers have been trained here in Uganda but this is yet to bring about a difference. Other African countries have shunned the mission and the two east African countries could be stuck there for long.

According to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) titled “Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support”, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which Ugandan an Burundian forces are trying to help,  is too inept, increasingly corrupt and hobbled by President Sharif’s weak leadership.

The report released this week also did not get much media attention in Uganda.

The ICG report says the TFG has squandered the goodwill and support it received and achieved little of significance in the two years it has been in office. This explains why their area of influence in Mogadishu has been dwindling. The government is expected to deliver a permanent constitution before August 2011, when the TFG’s official mandate ends but ICG says is unlikely to be met.

ICG criticized the international community for pushing for the re-establishment of a European-style centralized state based in Mogadishu which they say will not work. And Uganda is stuck in this skewed international thinking of what a Somali state should look like.

“Since independence, one clan, or group of clans, has always used its control of the centre to take most of the resources and deny them to rival clans. Thus, whenever a new transitional government is created, Somalis are naturally wary and give it limited, or no, support, fearing it will only be used to dominate and marginalise them.”

The report indicated the current TFG is even less willing to share power than previous transitional administrations, which explains the recurrent tensions between it and self-governing enclaves like Puntland, Galmudug, Ximan and Xeeb and local grassroots movements like Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ).

The report suggested that recruitment of more AMISOM troops is not the answer to Somalia’s governance problems. President Museveni in the aftermath of the July 11 Kampala bombings was even writing opinions in regional press to drum up support for increase in troops. So far many African countries are unwilling to sacrifice their sons and daughters for a mission whose achievements are not very clear.

ICG called for more recruitment and coordination of the security forces of allied local administrations rather than looking on the outside.

And then the report had a warning “do not attempt a major offensive unless an appropriate accompanying political strategy has been develop.” Sorry, the offensive is already underway. It’s been called the deadliest batter in Mogadishu in the last months.

6 thoughts on “Battle for Mogadishu; Ugandan family learns of son’s death from Internet

  1. and then again that shows you how much transparency we need. The general public has a right to get access to this kind of information. A couple of months ago one of the guys that I knew growing up was Killed In Action – in Somalia. These men (troops) who die “serving” their country/ world should be honored and their families should be compensated. Just so you know, his family did not get any kind of compensation – thats what his family says!

    Thank you for writing this very informative article Rosie. Reminds me of the role of Citizen Journalists in community development and activism!

  2. Rosebell –
    Thank you for your honest and vivid description of all that is happening Uganda and Somalia for those of us who cannot see firsthand what is happening. I have had the privilege of visiting Uganda, and as a student studying journalism in the United States, I pray I can return and partner with you and other Ugandan journalists. You vivid pictures of your “guts stiffening” and description of the “lack of sources and reporters” on the ground brings me right back to walking the streets of Kampala. My prayers are with you… that you would be safe in all of your research and reporting. Looking forward to continuing to follow your award-winning blog.

    A fellow journalist seeking to report the truth,
    Abbey Bennett

  3. First saw this in the print edition of Kenya’s Business Daily, as a sidebar to COO’s expose of the economics of the Somali situation (re: Wikileaks). Good writing Rose, – keep going…and stay safe in and out of Kampala…

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