When President Mohamed Farmajo assumed office in February 2017, he promised to rebuild and reform the country’s military and make it his top priority. Almost three years later, a lot has been achieved but much needs to be done.
The reform is part of government’s agenda to rebuild the army to a force capable of taking over the security of the country when the 22,000-strong African Union troops leave. When the African Union (AU) troops complete their mission in Somalia, a UN Security Council resolution was that a United Nations peacekeeping mission replaces them. That plan has now been scrapped. The AU troops will hand over the responsibility of securing the country directly to Somali forces. Already, some places like Warsheikh Forward Operating Base, Mogadishu Stadium, Somali National University and Jaale Siyad Military Academy were handed over to Somali forces.
In July, the government registered fighters allied militia groups into the national army. About 10,000 ghost soldiers were expunged from the military records.
Soldiers are now being paid and through their bank accounts, eliminating middlemen and cutting out commanders who siphoned the soldiers’ meager salary, some earning as low as 100 dollars. Now soldiers’ salary has also been increased – 130 per cent increment. Payments are linked to a biometric database containing soldiers’ fingerprints, personal details and bank accounts. Each soldier will also receive 30 dollars for food and another 30 dollars for food rations in the barracks.
“This is a good beginning but soldiers deserve more than that,” Prime Minister Hassan Kheyre recently said.
“Following the Somali National Army reform process, we have now directed our attention and focus to improve the economic quality of our army.”
Despite international assistance, the military lacked weapons, basic medical supplies, uniforms, and soldiers even go without salary for months. This led to donors like the United States to suspend aid to the military. But the government’s effort to reform and fight corruption within the military changed donors’ mind, with Washington resuming its assistance. The Somali army is now beginning to take shape.
Somali military is engaged in a war against al Shabab militants, an al Qaeda-linked group fighting to topple the government and implement its own version of Islamic law. The group carries out deadly attacks within and outside Somalia; it targets government installations as well as civilians.
In September of this year, President Farmajo signed an anti-corruption bill into law. The bill, which was passed by the Somalia Senate in December 2018, will be a significant step in the fight against corruption that has crippled the Horn of Africa nation for so long, and will herald the formation of an anti-graft agency.
The government conducted an internal assessment it called ‘Operational Readiness Awareness’ of the army.
For over a decade, the international community has invested considerable time, effort, equipment, and hundreds of millions of dollars to build an effective Somali National Army. So far, they have failed. This is according to the assessment.
“The Operational Readiness Assessment is completed and we have learned the strengths, gaps and lessons for the police and National Army. We will use this as a springboard to identify and implement necessary reforms,” President Farmajo told a security conference in Mogadishu.
The government is now coordinating partner countries that offer training to its soldiers. There has been lack of coordination as the US, UK, Turkey, Italy and others train soldiers in different parts of the country in their own style and model, almost each unit getting different from others.
International security assistance has been better coordinated since the adoption of the new Comprehensive Approach to Security, developed in 2017 between external partners and the federal government.
In July 2019, 152 officers, including 81 lieutenants and 71 sergeants, graduated from TURKSOM – a military academy and Defence University run by Turkey – in a ceremony presided over by President Farmajo. A month later, in August, In August, 98 specially trained soldiers graduated from British military training in Baidoa, in southwest Somalia.
And in April, the first Somali Commando Infantry Battalion returned to Somalia after they completed their training from Mountain Commando School in Turkey.
The international community and the donors should now focus more on rebuilding the Somali army, redirecting most attention and resources to this cause and coordinate their programmes and efforts, while maintaining support for Amisom –the African Union mission – which gets much of the military and other resources.
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