As Somalis celebrate National Flag Day, the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) has vowed to continue keeping the peace in Somalia until the county raises a sufficient army to be in charge of security.
On Oct. 12, 1954, the Somali flag was hoisted for the first time, marking the end of colonization and the reunification of regions that were separately being ruled by Italy and Britain. The day is celebrated every year by the Somali community.
But 65-year-old Musa Khalid, a Somali long distance truck driver who drives from Kenya’s port of Mombasa to the Democratic Republic of Congo through Uganda, said: “If it was not for Ugandan troops going to fight for peace in Somalia, Somalia’s flag day wouldn’t be celebrated because the country would still be in a total mess.”
Ugandan troops have been on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia since 2007 and lost around 20 soldiers during that time. Uganda was the first country to deploy troops for peacekeeping in the country, paving the way for other countries to join. They also have been playing a major role in forcing the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization out of Mogadishu and other parts of the country, thereby contributing to the peace and stabilization effort in Somalia.
“If Uganda had not taken the initiative of sending peacekeepers to Somalia, no army from any other country would have sent its troops there. The situation was chaotic. The militants had just killed foreign soldiers,” said Ali Fahad, a Somali refugee based in the eastern Uganda town of Mbale.
He said it was only after Ugandan troops had succeeded in entering Somalia and started to eliminate the militants that other countries also sent their peacekeepers.
Lt. Col. Ronald Kakurungu, Uganda’s defense forces deputy spokesman, conceded that it was true that Uganda was the first country to send troops to Somalia but downplayed it, saying Uganda does not boast over it because it was responding to a call of helping fellow Africans.
“The AU [African Union] requested us with other countries like Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa to contribute troops to keep peace in Somalia. Although the other countries did not send troops, we did so because we felt that we had a role to contribute to the returning of peace and stability in Somalia,” he said.
He said they did so because of their spirit of Pan-Africanism, which is much supported by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is also commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.
He said that later on, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia also sent troops to Somalia, adding that the UN, African Union and Turkey are the key supporters of peacekeepers in Somalia.
Kakurungu said that due to the prevailing peace in Somalia, people there can hold celebrations.
Recently, there was panic among Somali refugees in Uganda and other parts of the world when Museveni announced on Sept. 9 that he would be forced to withdraw Ugandan troops if sections of the leadership in Somalia continued to wrangle for political control in the country.
“The issue in Somalia is when internal forces do not come up to shoulder their responsibilities. They are always against one another. If they did cooperate, the situation would have been solved,” Museveni said.
He was referring to a recent squabble when a group of opposition presidential candidates and supporters rejected the government’s plan for upcoming elections.
That threat came to pass after the Ugandan and Somali presidents met last week on the sidelines of Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed’s swearing in ceremony in the capital Addis Ababa.
Apparently to show that Ugandan troops will continue their peacekeeping mission in Somalia, Uganda’s Commander of Land Forces (CLF) Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba late last month visited Ugandan troops serving under the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to assess their welfare and commend them for their contribution to the peace support operation.
According to a statement issued by AMISOM, Kainerugaba interacted with Ugandan troops involved in ongoing operations to degrade Al-Shabaab and restore peace and stability in the country.
“The purpose of my visit is to commend the troops for the great work they are doing in Somalia. Secondly, it is to talk to them and get a feel of the problems and challenges they are facing,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.
He also visited Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, met the AMISOM military leadership and visited various forward operating bases, where he interacted with Ugandan troops on the frontlines.
“You should understand that you are Uganda’s ambassadors here in Somalia. Do not do anything that will bring disrepute to the name of Uganda and the UPDF,” he was quoted telling Ugandan troops.