When will Somalis ready themselves to take over the mantle of National Security from AMISOM?

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After approximately ten years of frantic efforts to rebuild the Somali Army from scratch after state collapse, the Army isn’t ready to defend the country’s territorial integrity. This is at at time they are expected to take on more responsibilities from AMISOM as the former prepares for gradual exit.  As of December 2017, AMISOM boots on the grounds were in effect reduced by 1000 soldiers, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2372 (2017). Ironically, the diplomats at New York who made the resolution seem to be largely out of synch with realities on the ground in Somalia.

The resolution was grossly unrealistic because AMISOM has over the years overstretched itself on ground. Even with the current troop levels, AMISOM is facing nightmare in securing the long supply routes since they rely largely on road to transport their logistics.  A prerequisite for realistic reduction of AMISOM troop levels necessitated acquisition of enablers such as attack and utility aircrafts. Presently AMISOM has no such enablers at Force Headquarters. They rely on support from unilateral from partners such as United States, and in some cases individual Troop Contributing Countries such as Kenya.

Theoretically, the resolution paved way for AMISOM’s gradually handing over security responsibilities to the nascent Somali Armed Forces. And that is the crux of the matter, because whereas this is a step in the right direction, the Somali Armed Forces still have a long way to go to enhance it’s a capability as a real National Army should. What is surprising is that many Somali Politicians are eager to see Somali Army playing a leading role, which is commendable, yet they are not doing enough work towards improving the capacity of the Army.

To begin with, the Somali Army isn’t yet a cohesive force with a robust doctrine. As such, current efforts to transform it will largely revolve around whims of the top brass, rather than institutional policies and doctrinal yard sticks. From the onset, the Transitional National Government (TNG) began building its force by recruiting freelance gun-men and former members of the Siad Barre military in the 2000’s. By 2004 when the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) formed up in Jowar, most of the fighters were basically clan militias. The trouble with an army raised from clan militias is that they are only loyal to specific commanders. That is origin of the command and control dilemma Somali Army is still embroiled in.

In those early days of TNG and TFG, the eligibility to join Somalia army was possiion of a personal riffle. Each recruit must join with his own gun. At the time there was an arms embago, prohibiting procurement of guns. Since the bulk of the foot soldiers were formerly affiliated to a war lord, once the war lord cut ties with government, so will the foot soldiers. For instance, at one point General Goobale’s 3rd Brigade was almost exclusively from Galgadud region, and from one sub-clan in that region. And these troops were mostly former members of the Jubba Valley Alliance (JVA). In mid 2013, there was a full blown war between locals and the Somali Army in Lower Shabelle. The standoff culminated to eventual withdrawal of the 3rd Brigade from most parts of the region.

Clan dynamics still heavily undermines cohesion in the armed forces, as some powerful clans such as Hawiye wield a lot of influence, since they dominate the federal forces. Rather than working with the federal army as allies, some regional governments instead regards the SNA as rivals. According to available statistics, EU, AU, Turkey and Uganda cumulative trained 80,000. It is unclear whether the soldiers attended multiple trainings or simply kept deserting after training. Pessimists thus conclude that Somalia’s partners have been training a fraction of their trainees for Alshabab.

The Somali army needs a lot of resources to boost its buildup, but the endemic corruption by the Army leadership is proving to be a huge set back. In December 2017, the United States of America had to cancel food and fuel aid to most of Somalia’s armed Forces due to corruption concerns. According to audit reports, the army was unable to feed, pay or arm its soldiers – despite hundreds of millions of dollars of support. A visit to some of the bases by US Officials discovered a lot of “ghosts and inexistent” soldiers. There were few soldiers is bases, despite the huge numbers often presented by commanders.

The command structure of Somali Armed Forces are flooded with multitudes of incompetent people. For the past eight years, military ranks were given to clan and war lord militia commanders simply to please the respective groups and buy their loyalty.  This has led to an army of Semi-illiterate Officers. Former President Sheikh Sharrif at one point promoted War Lord Indha Adde from nothing to General. He also promoted former Islamic Courts Union foot soldiers from nothing to Captains and Majors.  Some of these illiterate Officers barely have any scant idea about strategy and operations planning. It is these caliber of officers who have been leading SNA from defeat to defeat at the hands of Alshabab.

Some even more damning findings were made by a Joint AU and United Nations Operational Readiness Assessment. The findings showed that the SNA is a fragile force with extremely weak command and control, and incapable of conducting effective operations or sustaining themselves. The unit’s strength levels averaged 62 percent of their authorized strength, of which only 70 percent of them had weapons. As of December 2017, Somalia’s military was 26,000 strong, but this number included those who died and those who had since deserted the force.

Failure by authorities to pay the soldiers the $100 a month stipend has forced many active soldiers to sell their weapons, ammunition or dessert them army. A good number of Somali soldiers are known to engage in private security work for businessmen. For the commanders, there is a lot of infighting amongst them over control of strategic checkpoints. The zeal to man checkpoints is purely motivated by the motive to extort money from civilians, especially the business community.

Somalia’s military continues to perpetuate the greatest self-sabotage is the modern history. Stemming from their irregular payments, they resort to selling their guns and ammunition to arms dealers, who then sell it to Alshabab, and Alshabab subsequently uses the very ammunition that originated from SNA to attach and overrun their barracks. Now that Alshabab lost control of sea ports that served as their logistics bases, they now replenish either by attacking SNA positions or buying from illegal arms market. Officially, selling arms and ammunition is illegal in Somalia, but the State lacks the capacity to police its entire territory.

Somalia Army is certainly better off today that it was three years ago. Nonetheless, this isn’t the posture of an Army that is ready to take a leading role in securing a war ravaged country. Much of the weakness emanates from the confusion of the political class, who are evidently disorganized and unfocused. The factionalism and standoff at the Lower parliament in early April is a testament to this confusion. At a time when the politicians needed to show leadership to rally all Somalis to rebuild their country, self-centered Somali politicians are preoccupied with cheap politicking at the citizen’s expense. A power hungry political class sets a wrong precedent for citizen.  It’s an automatic disincentive to patriotism in the Army. Somali Soldiers obviously find it hard to sacrifice fighting for a country led by power hungry and greedy politicians.

By leveraging on its highly educated and enterprising diaspora communities, Somalia has a wide pool of human resource that can constitute an effective civil service. The politicians must work hard to build state legitimacy by engineering grassroots peace building efforts. It is quite embarrassing that some populations in already liberated areas have to go to territories under Alshabab to seek justice. Alshabab has managed to have a better taxation system where people remit taxes electronically through their mobile phones. Alshabab tax collectors are reputed to be corrupt-free in the administered territories.

Somali security actors are not doing enough to engineer and execute strategies to prevent further violent extremism and radicalization of the youth. The best way to counter extremist’s narratives and propaganda is by offering services to the people. And one such crucial service is provision of security. To provide this the government certainly has to put concerted efforts to improve the capability of its security forces.  Security will in turn create a conducive atmosphere for investments and economic growth, which will generate the much needed revenues.

The solution towards complete pacification of Somalia must begin with Somali politicians agreeing to work together for the progress of the country. The successes of motivated groups like ASWJ has proven that Alshabab can be defeated even with limited external support. The government needs to work with partners to economically empower the large base of extremely poor masses. A large number of economically impoverished youth do join Alshabab as a means of livelihood. Improving living conditions of the masses, and enhancing the participation in governance will weaken the allure to join the extremists. That is practical and commentary approach  to achieve peace and Security in Somalia, beyond guns and bullets.

Owachgiu Dennis


Why have foreign aid projects been largely ineffective in Karamoja?

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Despite the considerably large sums of foreign donor’s money sunk in different projects in Karamoja over the years, there is a near consensus that most of these projects certainly didn’t achieve their anticipated goals by all standards. Resultantly, the same problems such as famine and starvation, which these projects were set up to address, keep recurring intermittently.

For years a bunch of these NGOs have been busy merely treating the symptoms of food security crises. Few ventured far enough to treat the underlying cause of the entire problem – drought and water shortage, especially in dry seasons. That is how they have usually given the wrong remedy to the problem – food distribution. Giving out food today can improve short term food security, but the same crisis – food insecurity is bound to reoccur.

There is chronic Poverty and Vulnerability in the Karamoja region, despite the regions rich mineral endowment .

There is a fairly large “aid industry ” in Karamoja, where the World Food Programme and other International and National Organizations have taken approximately half a century distributing food relief. The food aid certainly helps out. However, the must be complementary efforts to tackle the root cause of the problem.

It’s ridiculous how all these “experts” in the NGO sector and Ugandan leaders and Policy makers in government keep doing the same thing and somehow miraculously expect different results. Aridity is a known problem that didn’t just being yesterday. By now different stakeholders ought to have crafted long term solutions to the problem.

For starters, most of the aid projects targeted livelihoods and food security. Most NGOs carry out similar projects, albeit without coordination.  Fundamentally, for most local people, there is a disconnect between what an NGO claims to do, and what they see. Over the years many projects were implemented, but the core problems still persist. In spite of all the protracted interventions, the region remains one of the most underdeveloped regions in Uganda, with high prevalence of poverty.

Apparently some of the failures emanates from inherent flaws in program development. There have been some NGOs whose workers lack deeper understanding of the livelihoods of Karimojong people. All the same, they sit in their offices and assign themselves the roles of prescribing solutions without first understanding the complexity of the problem. Some aspects such as cultural norms, often overlooked by many actors, have imperiled the success of countless projects. Cultural insensitivity and designing projects without input from the locals recurrently makes it unclear in whose interests some of these people work.

Most NGOs come with a warped perspective that pastoralism is not viable in the long run. They also think pastoralism makes people’s livelihoods more vulnerable. Most aid workers view pastoralism as synonymous with retrogressive. This perspective feeds into solution; discouraging pastoralism. The reality is that pastoralism is a strategy inhabitants of dry lands adapt to mitigate challenges of drought. Pastoralism a solution to a problem, not the problem itself.

Since crop harvests are unreliable in most parts of Karamoja, semi-nomadic herding is actually a coping mechanism against crop failure. It’s a resilience strategy in the midst of adverse drought. If aid workers knew what the people need the most, they would prioritize provision of veterinary services and marketing. These would tremendously improve productivity. Since most people have cows in the areas, they receive less money for their animals. Donor’s effort would create impact if they could set up marketing cooperatives or facilitated setting up of meat packing factories to add value. Most development programmes give more support to crop based livelihoods than herding based on freedom of movement.

Paradoxically, people’s local realities are harder to decipher when you are an outsider. The conventional development policy that encourages settlements may seem a wonderful idea. Settlements and promotion of arable farming might have helped to curb cattle rustling. On the flip side however, a local farmer who has been forced to settle in one place and encouraged by NGOs to grow crops become even more vulnerable when drought hits. Settled households that depend on rain fed agriculture are not able cope. They will need food aid forever.  Settlement, the aid worker’s solution, actually creates a situation where households can no longer survive independently when the rains are poor. This is a problem which did not exist when households could survive from their livestock – which they could relocate to new areas.

More often than not, these text-book solutions seldom work because local people are only involved in these projects at implementation stage. They are co-opted at later stages as mere beneficiaries and not as participants. For instance, when the former Minister of Karamoja affairs constructed some houses, instead of sleeping in these houses, some beneficiaries let their animals sleep in the constructed houses. Though well intentioned, this intervention invariably wasn’t a priority to the supposed beneficiaries.

It is not only donor’s money that has been squandered without tangible results. Former Vice president Specioza Wandira Kazibwe is infamous in Karamoja because of her scandalous valley dam’s project. The IGGs report on the Livelihood Services Project (LSP) stated that “the colossal costs so far incurred have borne no benefit to the intended communities and have failed to accomplish the objectives for which LSP was set”. Over the years there have been many scandals that rival Kazibwe’s valley dam saga. The failed projects in Karamoja cost Ugandan taxpayers losses worth billions of shillings over the years.

Karamoja happens to be one of the richest and most endowed regions of Uganda. There is immense mineral wealth beneath the land surface of Karamoja. No effort has been made to empower the people of Karamoja to reap from their rich endowment in mineral wealth and other natural resources. For most NGOs coming to Karamoja, the rationale for their projects is that that Karamoja is an extremely poor region of Uganda that needs to be helped with food. The main effort should be to empower the people to tap these potentials, not giving out posho and beans.

Here is a rich region having Gold, iron ore yet most of its districts can barely raise 2% in local revenues. The local leaders are rather unfazed when their people’s communal lands with minerals are fraudulently grabbed and fenced off by shenanigans. Dependency syndrome has clearly disoriented most local leaders. They expect things to be done for them and can’t strategically think of ways to harness the region’s rich endowment. They idly look on how limestone is been quarried off their land and transported to manufacture cement elsewhere.

By implication, if foreign aid could transform Karamoja, by now it should have done exactly that. More than anything else, Karamoja needs investments to drive economic transformation.  It’s quite hilarious that just like the local pastoralists who only think about cows, the aid workers too are narrow-minded in their areas of focus. They have scarcely thought of ways to empower communities to exploit other opportunities like tourism, mineral extraction, pharmaceutical are many other areas.

The bottom line is that Karamoja needs water, not aid and that is exactly what government and development partners should do. By drawing inspiration from other arid countries like Israel that have harnessed technologies to solve the problem of water shortage for crops and animals. Uganda has enough water bodies. It’s just a matter of figuring ways of getting water from neighboring regions to Karamoja either through pipelines or tunnels.

Above all, all these efforts must be led by the local people themselves. There is need to engage the people in efforts to solve the problem.

By Owachgiu Dennis (An abridged version of an Upcoming research paper for One Direction Institute )


Why Uganda needs new crop of competent, ethical technocrats with fresh ideas

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Technocrats generally hold the gears to any country’s prosperity. Politicians may love to take the credit and bask in the glory of success, but the ones who really make it happen are the technocrats. Sadly, some of Uganda’s top technocrats conduct themselves as politicians.  

The Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Finance/Secretary to the Treasury is one such key technocrats who now acts like a politician, on to of being economical with the truth. The recent haggling between Keith Muhakanizi  and National Medical Stores (NMS)  bosses over the whereabouts of $200 million borrowed borrowed from the PTA Bank was grossly embarrassing to the nation. Finance Ministry and NMS officials surprisingly gave contradictory information to the committee.

Keith Muhakanizi – Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance, Secretary to Treasury

NMS bosses appeared before the committee and expressed concerns about lack of funds to procure needed funds. Mr Muhakanizi on his part to the committee that the money was sent to NMS, yet NMS did not  receive the money. Later, when he was grilled, he admitted the the money had not yet been sent to NMS. NMS, Ministry of Works and Rural Electrification Agency were cited as beneficiaries of the loan approved in 2016. While seeking parliamentary approval for the loan, they claimed it was for drugs. However, when the loan was disbursed, it was allegedly used to cover up for shortfalls foreign exchange deficits. Again, Bank of Uganda governor said the have enough foreign exchange reserve. 

Perhaps the most extremely appalling fact is that Uganda has a huge amount of borrowed money that hasn’t been used. The loans are already accruing interest yet the are not yet utilized. A previous report noted that the low level of disbursement was attributed to the low absorption capacity of implementing agencies. This ostensibly results from poor projects/or contract management, procurement related challenges and financial management inadequacies. As if that is not bad enough, they are still requesting for more loans.

This poor absorption has far reaching implications on tax payers. The auditor General has often warned that that it undermines the attainment of planned development targets because the country will pay up more to the lenders in terms associated costs. These weaknesses are well documented yearly by the Auditor General in his annual audit reports presented to Parliament. If the concerned technocrats could take corrective measures, we wouldn’t have a repeat of the disappointing omissions or commissions.  

At one time they are giving contracts to a non existent company to procure bicycles for LCs. Another time they are giving contracts to Eutaw another fictitious company to construct Katosi road. Never mind that contracts ought to be cleared by Legal Officers and the Solicitor General who should ordinarily do due diligence. Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) has arguably paid the highest number of ghost companies. This is no longer about failure in doing the requisite due diligence. It’s just theft of taxpayers money deliberately done with impunity. This depth of impunity also raise red flags on how some of these personnel are hired.

Quite bizarrely, more often than not, an under performing top technocrat is merely  transferred to another Ministry. They thus recycle their incompetence to another  Ministry. At the climax of Office of the Prime Minister (OPM)-Kazinda graft, donors cut off aid to the government because of the embezzlement of over 50 billions. Guess what? the Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana who oversaw the mess under the Office of the Prime Minister was instead transferred to Gender Ministry. At Gender Ministry he is overseeing the Youth Livelihood Fund, another multi-billion.

The most scandalous technocrats often have more than one scandal to their name and still retain their offices. The previous MInistry of Health Permanent Secretary fits exactly within mould. A better part of his work schedule was spent defending himself against litanies of allegation associated with graft and financial impropriety.

The one institution that should shape our economy, Bank of Uganda is itself has been exposed itself as a regulator with wanting regulatory competence. The aftermath of Crane Bank collapse opened the lid to the supervisory incompetence of bank of Uganda. Most of the fraud Sudhir Ruparelia is accused of orchestrating could have been preventable if Bank of Uganda were no sleeping on the job. The forensic audit report revealed that Sudhir actually owned 100% of the bank contrary to the Financial Institutions Act. BOU now claim sudhir concealed the ownership of 47.33 per cent of  Kantaria/White Sapphire, which they say were indirectly owned by Crane Bank. Shareholders are supposed to be vetted before approved by central of banks. Concealment of ownership therefore means incompetence vetting mechanism.   

 The foregoing gives a clear picture of the caliber of technocrats whom Ugandans are banking on to propel the country forward. Like many underdeveloped countries, the top technocrats keep making their incompetence by vague excuses. The number one excuse is often “lack of resources”. But when you come to think about it, there is a lot of money being waste around.

Uganda might not move at the expected speed without making serious reforms in human resource management.  


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