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Ugandan soldiers attacked in Mogadishu – Here’s why they should stay

By Simon Mwebaze 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.  

Since 2007, the Ugandan army has been deployed in Mogadishu. It was the first army deployed under African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in March of the same year. The purpose was to counter the threat of Al-Shabaab, a terrorism group in East Africa.

Al-Shabaab became a regional threat after it took advantage of a power vacuum in Somalia. In the early 2000s, the group evolved out of a military wing of the federation of Islamic Courts. They were able to conquer and control Mogadishu and southern Somalia by 2006.

Al-Shabaab’s terrorist activities go well beyond the borders of Somalia especially into countries participating in the conflict in Somalia. They are responsible for significant attacks across the region. These include the Westgate mall attack in 2013 that claimed 68 lives and injured 200 people and the Kyadondo twin bombing in 2010 that claimed 74 lives. Most recently, barely a month ago, a base in Mogadishu with Ugandan soldiers was attacked by the same group. 54 Ugandan soldiers were killed. 

Several of these attacks were motivated by the involvement of the attacked countries in the Mogadishu conflict. The Westgate mall attack in Kenya was because of Kenya’s involvement and the Ugandan bombings due to Ugandan involvement. 

With that said, it may seem like a plausible decision for the armies to evacuate to avoid more damage on home and foreign soil. But leaving Mogadishu at this stage would not be the wisest decision. There are motivations for the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) to stay put and see the conflict through.  

Leaving Mogadishu would be a bad idea. Already, even with deployment, East African countries have experienced some of the worst terrorist attacks in their history. Without the presence of army peacekeepers in Somalia, they would cause far worse havoc. Military presence in Somalia acts as a deterrent for Al-Shabaab moving further inland and conducting more attacks within the region. 

Employment opportunities are scarce in Uganda as well. More so, worthwhile payment for soldiers is also a rarity. The opportunity to be deployed in other foreign countries for peacekeeping purposes allows soldiers to earn more income. It allows them to afford a better standard of living at home not just for themselves but their families. Retrieving them from the mission while it’s still ongoing would deny them this opportunity.   

Another benefit to the deployed armies is training. To be part of a peacekeeping force, soldiers undergo specialized training to help them navigate the dangers of fighting. In the case of Mogadishu, the specialized environment would be a city.

Successful combat within a city requires unique expertise provided during peacekeeping missions. These experiences can then be useful in other countries that are experiencing similar conflict or unrest.   

One example is the last Ugandan presidential election. One of the main generals from the UPDF operating in Somalia was brought back to the capital city to assure there was peace during and after the elections. This was due to his expertise in city warfare.  

Another reason to keep the soldiers in Mogadishu is that it keeps the army active in preparation for any conflict rather than keeping them idle at home.  

Regional collaboration is another benefit from the army’s involvement in Somalia. Standing with Somalia, Kenya, and other countries with deployed armies promotes goodwill between them. The collaboration may play further into regional and international collaboration in other sectors including trade.   

Additionally, peace and stability in the region provides a conducive environment for trade to flow easily. Considering Somalia is by the coast of Africa, guaranteeing it is safe and secure allows for goods moving by ship to easily dock without concern of being attacked and losing lives and goods in the process.   

The conflict in Somalia signifies a regional effort to combat terrorism. It also shows the region’s solidarity with Somalia to restore law and order. From the outside looking in, it may seem wiser not to engage in other countries’ conflicts given examples of other interventions that did more harm than good. However, unlike the US and UK in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, this is one of those cases where the good outweighs the harm.  

Safety and security in the East African region start at the coast including countries such as Somalia. Without intervening, it exposes the interior of the region. Other countries in the region cannot just stand by and watch because eventually, terrorism will impact them. It already has started with a few significant attacks in Uganda and Kenya.   

For those reasons, East African countries need to maintain a presence in Somalia to curb the progression of terrorism. Their determination not only serves Somalia and deters Al-Shabaab but sends a message to other terrorist groups across Africa. The message is that terrorism is not welcome and will be met with a concerted effort of African countries.   

African countries need to have each other’s backs in times of conflict, so they can work together toward a common goal of deterring terrorism on the continent.

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Simon Mwebaze

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