Uganda is set to withdraw its troops from Somalia next year, ending a decade-long stay in the Horn of Africa country.
The plan could worsen the security situation in the country that has been made ungovernable by terrorist groups, which have intensified attacks in the last few months.
With 6,223 soldiers in Somalia, Uganda is the leading contributor of troops under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). The others are Kenya (3,664), Burundi (5,432), Ethiopia (4,395) and Djibouti (2,000).
Uganda’s withdrawal of troops from foreign engagement is, according to Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala, broader starting with a retreat from Central Africa Republic (CAR) where the Uganda People’s Defence Forces has been maintaining a relatively small force in the hunt for Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters alongside a couple hundred United States special forces.
According to Mr Katumba, the CAR withdrawal could be as soon as this November while the timetable for the Somalia withdrawal is at least 14 months away.
The decision, according to sources, was influenced by the cut in funding to Amisom by the European Union, a major funder of the Somalia mission.
But according to the UPDF leadership, ten years of starting from nothing to a now established government in Mogadishu with thriving business and a return to near normalcy is sufficient to let the country run its own affairs. After all, the leaders say, some pressure was beginning to build back home—both in Kampala and Mogadishu of a mission without a clear withdrawal time table.
Somalia goes to the polls to elect a new president next month. Foreign countries and organisations interested in the country’s fortunes are keen on a fairly acceptable electoral outcome and so appeared to be committing more effort to deliver that than sustaining a longer stay of foreign troops.
The elections form the basis of two competing world views around discussion forums where the fate of Somalia is decided.
Pro-democratic proponents see the elections as an opportunity to turn a fresh page in the Somalia story and reorganise resources around consolidating the gains from the electoral process.
They see money, mobilisation capacities well utilised to strengthen the police, for instance, or specialised units to keep a lid on terror group Al-Shabaab, which has been greatly weakened and pushed to small pockets on the periphery as bigger priority.
The militarists, on the other hand, are wary about the terror group resurging under the democracy cloak and creating another Egypt[ian] scenario where the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak opened opportunities for the apparently fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood to contest for power, which they won.
These concerns are not entirely unfounded. Al-Shabaab was a youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which won elections in 2006 only to be driven out of town by Ethiopian troops with US backing.
It is not unlikely they can rally sympathy/support around this history.
While the UPDF still maintains the largest force in Somalia, its influence has been shrinking with the arrival of other troop contributing countries.
This, sources say is a key factor for leaders in Kampala who believe they have the best understanding of the Somalia situation.
Political fragility in Kampala
A major issue for consideration though will be, with the growing political fragility in Kampala, whether the Uganda government will be comfortable with six thousand battle hardened troops returning to idle in barracks.
Frustrations over Amisom have also been expressed by Kenya, which threatened to pull its troops out of Somalia. Although it did not say so explicitly, logistical support has been one of the sticking points.
Last week, it emerged that allowances for the troops had not been paid for six months.
The European Union which funds the 22,000-strong Amisom force said the delay had arisen from ‘accounting issues’ related to the force administrators not accounting for the previous tranche as is required.
The head of Amisom told the BBC the correct papers to account for the last tranche had now been submitted. “These papers are on their way; the money is also on its way,” Francisco Madeira said.
Each Amisom soldier is paid $1,028 per month but takes home $200 less which is deducted by the respective government for administration cost.