Salim Saleh's Saracen training militia in Somalia
Saracen International, a security company associated with Uganda’s Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, alias Salim Saleh, a senior advisor to President Yoweri Museveni, who is also his younger brother, has come under the international spotlight for its alleged involvement in training militia in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland state.
Intelligence sources told The EastAfrican that President Museveni’s younger brother’s interest in this private military contractor has major regional security implications that could affect the efforts to restore peace in Somalia.
Last week, the Associated Press reported that a well-equipped military force was being created in northern Somalia with the help of Michael Shanklin, a former CIA officer and Pierre Prosper, an ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues under former President George W. Bush.
The training and the equipment — which is so far estimated at over $10 million — is being paid for by a mysterious “Muslim nation.”
These sources said that this deal usurps the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which includes security training. Ironically, Uganda has the most troops in Amisom, with the rest coming from Burundi.
The source said that the African Union is concerned that Saracen’s advent could be a propaganda gift for Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Shabaab, because they can argue that Amisom is in Somalia to make profits and do business, not to bring peace.
“If this is not nipped in the bud, it could bring the roof down on the head of the AU in Somalia because Uganda has the largest contingent there,” he said.
The revelation comes at a time when some AU officials and members are allegedly concerned about how Uganda is handling the affairs of its troops in Somalia.
The Amisom troops are paid $750 a month. Uganda docks $200 from each soldier. Burundi, on the other hand, takes off the recommended $100.
It is understood that the AU, fearful that this could demotivate the troops, has complained to Ugandan authorities, who have agreed to deduct the standard $100 only from each soldier, and refund the rest.
Our source also said that there is “grumbling” in the AU that Uganda, because it went in with the most equipment, has already been compensated more than handsomely for use of its resources — nearly $28 million so far, compared with $170,00 for Burundi.
A Nairobi diplomat also told The EastAfrican that the entrance of Saracen “conjures up the ghost of [Democratic Republic of] Congo,” where Uganda initially intervened in 1998 to deal with anti-Kampala rebels, but got embroiled in the conflict there and was later accused by an international panel of plundering Congo’s resources.
These concerns, however, may be coming too late because Saracen seems to have been quick in establishing itself.
The AP reported that, “In recent weeks, Shanklin and Prosper met several Nairobi-based diplomats to discuss the contract between the Puntland and Mogadishu governments and a private security company called Saracen International.
“Prosper said Saracen is doing the military training and is being paid by the unnamed Muslim nation. Saracen is not providing the militia with any weapons,” he said.
The Uganda-based Saracen International was named in a March letter written by the Somali president’s former chief of staff, Abdulkareem Jama, and obtained by AP that described training for the presidential guard.
And it was also named in a November 18 statement from Puntland’s government announcing the anti-piracy training. Bill Pelser, the chief executive of Saracen International, said it is “definitely a mistake or a misrepresentation.”
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson recently announced the long-expected Obama administration’s policy on Somalia.
He stated that the administration will pursue a two-track policy in order to find a lasting solution to Somalia’s crisis.
On the first track, the United States will continue to support the Transitional Federal Government, and on the second, it will engage current “governments” in Somaliland, Puntland, and other regional or clan entities.
All this, and the US diplomatic cables that have recently been leaked by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, suggests that the level of interest in Somalia is more intense than had so far appeared.
In the cables, Museveni is said to have pushed for tougher UN sanctions against Eritrea and its leader, President Isaias Afewerki, for supplying weapons to Somali militants.
Museveni also criticised former Transitional Federal Government president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed for non-inclusivity and slow pace of building a national army.
It is not known yet what both Afewerki and Yusuf’s reactions to these revelations are. If Afewerki responds in his mercurial fashion and ups supports for militants, and also if Yusuf’s supporters come to view Uganda as not being honest and neutral brokers, then an already bad situation could get worse.
On the other hand, the leaked cables revealed that Kenya’s plans to create an autonomous region on the border with Somalia as one way of stabilising the war-torn country, are much more ambitious than previously thought.
However, the cables reveal that Ethiopia is not enthusiastic about the plan, dubbed the Jubaland Initiative, because of its likely impact on its own Somali-dominated Ogaden region where rebels are fighting for autonomy.
Addis Ababa also doubts Kenya’s tactical capacity to carry out the plan given the strong presence of Al Shabaab rebels in Jubaland, whose capital city is Kismayo. The rebels are opposed to a breakaway Jubaland.
With the AU still struggling to get more member states to commit troops to Somalia, and a UN resolution to increase support for Amisom still being awaited, this is not welcome news.