As part of its mandate to support the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, African Union peacekeepers are helping train troops for the TFG. HASSAN BARISE accompanied AMISOM Force Commander Maj-Gen Nathan Mugisha on a visit to the training camps in Mogadishu. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
Currently, you have about 6,000 AMISOM troops in Mogadishu and the numbers are still inadequate. What difference would an extra 2,000 troops you expect to train for the TFG make?
A big difference. AMISOM has already achieved some success with our limited resources. The extra troops would boost our efforts to protect the population and ensure that when they wake up every morning, they can go about their daily activities without fear and contribute to the fight for peace in Somalia.
How optimistic are you that you can achieve the goal of restoring peace in Somalia with 6,000 AMISOM peacekeepers and 2,000 TFG troops?
It is a gradual process; peace cannot be achieved in a day just as Rome was not built in a day. We have to identify the good Somalis — the positive-thinking Somalis — and encourage them to join the TFG in fighting for peace, while trying to persuade those still out there in the bush to come to the negotiating table. We shall endeavour to persuade them to lay down their arms and negotiate.
AMISOM has been deployed for over three years in Somalia, with limited success. What has changed on the ground that would cause you to hope that better results are now achievable?
There were supposed to be 8,000 AMISOM troops from the beginning. But we have been operating with a little more than half of our required strength. The situation has been gradually changing and even the initial estimate of our required troop levels may already be obsolete.
Yet despite our limited troop numbers we have achieved a lot. We have secured certain areas where life is normal and people can go about their daily activities without fear or intimidation. The airport and the seaport are operating normally. The government is in place and performing its duties.
So, I can assure you that with additional troops, the situation will continue to improve.
What do you see as the main obstacles to achieving your goals?
First, we need to be clear about our mandate: contrary to what some may think or say, we are not here to fight. We are here to help create a conducive environment for dialogue among Somalis.
We are here to support all peace-loving Somalis to reconcile and forge a way forward. There is no military solution to this conflict; only a political solution, that is, dialogue and negotiations can achieve a lasting solution to the conflict in Somalia. Somalis must sit around a table and resolve their differences.
The solution will not come from without; it will only come from Somalis themselves.
AMISOM peacekeepers have repeatedly come under attack from the extremists and you have retaliated, sometimes causing civilian casualties. Don’t you think you have at times overreacted and used disproportionate force in retaliation against attacks non AMISOM and the TFG?
I do not think that our popularity with the population has suffere. We have a very good relationship with the people and that was demonstrated during an incident earlier this year in which we promptly and courageously reacted to a fire fight.