Somalia's government is losing its soldiers

Unpaid Somali soldiers defecting, some to al Qaida offshoot

somalia bomb 311 (photo credit: AP)
somalia bomb 311
(photo credit: AP)
They are fighting one of the most fervent, successful and rapidly expanding Islamist militias in the world. The government they are fighting for controls an increasingly limited portion of the country's territory. Their political and military leaders are clearly siphoning huge personal profits off international assistance packages meant to aid the military and country at large. Their camps are ghastly, they are provided with no healthcare, and often have to live off international food aid to avoid malnutrition. They are rarely paid their $100 a month salary. They face the real threat of being shot, blown up, tortured or hung on a daily basis.
Despite US training and tens of millions of dollars given to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) each year, a number of Somali analysts say soldiers fighting for Somalia's transitional government are deserting and some are joining A-Shabab, a loose association of militant Islamist groups with growing links to al Qaida, whose anti-government insurgency is increasingly successful.
"There is simply no loyalty to the state," Dr. Jack Kalpakian, an expert on Somalia and international security at Al-Akhawayn University told The Media Line. "One of the most effective weapons anyone has in Somalia is cash, so you can get soldiers to turn by simply offering to pay their salary. $100 a month is not chump change in Somalia, and certainly some of the money is getting siphoned off," he said. "What's to stop a soldier from taking $100 a month from the transitional government and then getting another $40 or $50 from A-Shabab and fighting as it pleases him."
The Somali transitional army is funded by the Somali government and international donors. The U.S. and other international donors are currently funding the salaries of over 5,000 Somali soldiers, leaving the rest of the army's 10,000 soldiers to be paid by the highly inefficient and stretched transitional government. According to Associated Press, the U.S. spent $6.8 million to train almost 2,100 Somali soldiers in Djibouti and Uganda over the past year, but almost half of them deserted the army after they were not paid their $100 a month salary. Some are understood to have joined the ranks of A-Shabab. A joint U.S. and EU training program for 2,000 new Somali soldiers is set to begin in Uganda next month.
Somali transitional government officials contacted for this article refused to comment.
Bashir Goth, a Somali analyst and the former editor of Awdal News, saidthat one of the reasons the transitional government is unable to payits soldiers is corruption."You have to remember most of the transitional government officials arepeople from the diaspora, who were unemployed in their host countries,"he told The Media Line. "Their sole aim of joining the government is toearn as much money as they can. Everyone knows that former transitionalgovernment members, including the former Prime Minister Ali MohammedGhedi, a veterinary teacher before he became prime minister, now ownsan expensive property in Nairobi."
Goth argued that low military salaries and the fear of abandonment werealso contributing factors to the high levels of military defections."The second reason is that the transitional government military ispoorly paid, while A- Shabab pays better," he said. "We have to alsoremember that the transitional government military lacks proper missionand purpose. They don't know whether they are fighting for the country or for agovernment that will run away tomorrow and leave them to face the wrathof the Islamists alone. It happened before... There are also manyIslamists in the transitional government military who could be playinga double game. Also, clanism plays a great role in Somali politics," Goth added. "Thetransitional government soldier will not fight against those in theopposition from his tribe, both for tribal loyalty and for fear ofreprisal by the clan on his family."
Dr Theodore Karasik, the Director for Research and Development at theInstitute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, pointed to amisplaced Western approach to military training.   "Western-style military training may work in the long run, but in theinterim you will have desertions because tribe and clan trumps militaryallegiance to the transitional government," he told The Media Line. "This is a tribal based society that is highly divided, so to bringforeign military values into Somalia doesn't necessarily fit. You haveto take into consideration how that society is made up."
EJ Hogendoorn, the International Crises Group's Horn of Africa ProjectDirector, warned against assuming that large numbers of Somali soldiersare defecting to A-Shabab. "Basically, most of these allegations are true, but while a few of themare joining A-Shabab, it's not in large numbers," he told The MediaLine. "Normally, if government soldiers defect to A-Shabab, they paradethem in front of the media. In reality most of them are probably justreturning to their clan militias or civilian life, if you can call itthat. "
Hogendoorn said that the principle problem was corruption, not ascarcity of funding to provide for the soldiers' salaries. "The problemis not that the funding is not available, the problem is that thetransitional government lacks the capacity and capability to monitorwhere those forces are and whether or not they are getting paid," hesaid. "You could give the transitional government $12 million dollarsand say pay 10,000 soldiers $100 a month for the next year, but you could not be sure that the money would ever end upin the hands of those forces, or even if it did, whether those forceswould continue to fight for the transitional government. Sointernational donors are quite nervous about giving more money to thetransitional government security structure."
Ahmed Egal, a Somali businessman and the CEO of AOST Inc, agreed,arguing it is a mistake to hold the transitional government up to thestandards of a traditional government. "Firstly you have to understand that the transitional government is nota 'government' in any sense of the word that is usually applied to suchan entity," he told The Media Line. "It does not control any territory,run and administer any state bureaucracy or rule over any population.It is, in fact, maintained in a few blocks of Mogadishu around VillaSomalia (the Presidential Palace) by 4,500 Ugandan and Rwandan troops. Secondly, the funds provided to the transitional government by international donors is appropriated by the president and his cabinet - they get the first bite - then doled out to their supporters in the so-called parliament - they get the second bite - then to the lobbyists and influence peddlers that the transitional government keeps on retainer around the world," Egal said. "The police and military come a very distant fourth in this list of priorities, since they are not essential to the survival and continued existence of the transitional government."
Somalia has not had a functioning government since the 1991 ouster ofMohamed Siad Barre. The ensuing years have seen a chaotic system ofrival clans controlling various parts of the capital. A Western-backedTransitional Federal Government was set up in 2004, but Mogadishuremained under the control of a coalition of sharia courts known as theIslamic Courts Union.
Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, A-Shababbegan an insurgency in late 2006 with assassinations and suicidebombings targeting aid workers and transitional government officials.The group has since made significant gains and now controls much ofsouthern Somalia and parts of the capital Mogadishu.
Western governments fear that Somalia's instability may provide a safe haven for international terrorist groups. A-Shabab members have cited links with al Qaida, although the affiliation is believed to be minimal. The group has several thousand fighters dividedinto regional units which are thought to operate somewhat independentlyof one another. The US has launched selected air attacks against A-Shabab leadersthought to have ties to al Qaida, but analysts say this has onlyincreased their support among Somalis.
The Western-backed Ethiopian military invaded Somalia in 2007, but manyanalysts believe this too augmented A-Shabab's military campaignagainst the transitional government. The Ethiopians withdrew in January of last year, after over 16 months of A-Shabab attacks on its forces.
A former schoolteacher, the new president of Somalia, Sheikh SharifSheikh Ahmed, is a moderate supportive of Sharia law who seeks tointegrate A-Shabab fighters into the transitional government's forces.His overtures have to date been rejected and the government has largelyfailed to contain A-Shabab's expansion. The transitional government'snew military chief was until less than a year ago the assistant managerat a McDonald’s in Germany.
The Somali National Security Force was meant to have 8,000 soldierstrained and in the field by now. The UN estimates that as of November2009 less than 3,000 soldiers were on the government payroll. There arereports that there are another 5,000 to 10,000 fighters fromgovernment-aligned militias operating in Mogadishu.
The transitional government is preparing a major military 'surge' toretake the capital Mogadishu but Somali analysts are highly scepticalof the surge's potential for success.
"There is no effective military resistance to the jihadists in Somaliaexcept for the AMISOM [African Union Mission for Somalia] troops and amuch smaller transitional government contingent charged with securingVilla Somalia and its immediate environs," said Egal. "You have tounderstand that the much vaunted 'surge' that the transitionalgovernment is supposed to be mounting against the jihadists is afiction that has been concocted for foreign consumption in order tosecure weaponry and continued political, financial and militarysupport."
"Most of the $40 million worth of arms that the U.S. gave to thetransitional government last year has been sold to, or captured by, thejihadists," he claimed. "I can personally assure you that there will beno 'surge' against the jihadists mounted by the transitional governmentsoon or at any time in the future. Whenever we hear this canard statedby the transitional government or its international supporters/donors,we (Somali commentators/journalists/analysts etc.) break out into galesof laughter, and more and more well informed foreign observers ofSomalia are starting to join us."