Absent President makes soldiers strike worse – UM

Somali National Army deserted several towns in the Hirshabelle State complaining non-payment of salaries for months. Photo: Twitter

Mogadishu (UM) – Somalia has been in chaos for the last few days because of good policy choices communicated and executed badly. The SNA (The Somali National Army) has proven impossible to reform in the past as a result of lack of political will, Federal Member State obstruction and the military leaderships power over the past administrations. Now, there is a government that is taking on the security elite and forcing them to be more accountable, transparent and give all soldiers their rights. It is a blessing that this government wants to end the security sector corruption. The Somali people agree as do international partners that the Somali National Army must be paid, trained and equipped well to fight terrorism in Somalia. But they must also be all registered, healthy and ready to fight to secure Somalia and keep the peace. This is something everybody agrees on but because of political posturing and poor communication is been misinterpreted on all sides.

Incompetent officials have destroyed the morale of soldiers on the front line and, as soldiers have told UM, stolen from them. The public are glad that many senior Army officials were replaced last week for this. Reform is necessary and must happen but how is the question.

The Administration of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire has shouted, screamed but is yet to get its message across. The reforms are not clear to all soldiers and those that have been fingerprinted still claim to not have been paid. These are serious allegations because compliance should be met with payment by the government. The target of the anger of the Federal government should not be the ordinary soldiers but many of their commanders who are stealing from them and robbing the state. The corrupted military leaders are scared because they know what they have been doing for a long time was wrong but instead of blaming the whole army, the government should seek to prosecute the leaders who engaged in corruption and those who facilitated it.

The military covenant must be honoured: soldiers have promised to give their lives for the defence of Somalia yet from analysing much of their speech this week, the respect and relationship between the civilian arm of government and the defense forces is eroding. Constructive private discussions have been sidelined for open public accusations and attacks on both sides.  This is bad politics and will only get worse until the government understand a few facts. First is that, while registration is important, the Army is still not National as they are made up of clan members. Many of them are using their own guns and buying their ammunition. They are not yet professional because the government and AMISOM and the international partners have focused too much on Public Relations to do anything meaningful for the long term. The ease with which Al-Shabaab is able to return to abandoned territory by the Somali National Army and AMISOM forces is staggering and only demonstrates failure of all the activities that are discussed inside Halane by a few friends in the security sector. It is worrying that when security crisis occurs, the government senior leadership responds defensively with statements about how things should be and not how they are. The President, the Commander in-Chief, the man the soldiers most want to hear from, is absent. The Minister of Defense is sidelined by the Prime Minister who tells soldiers to come to him about their pay overriding the Ministry of Finance. The registration process was badly communicated and delayed for security reasons according to soldiers interviewed by UM and nobody wants to discuss this. What this crisis, and it is a crisis, has shown is the level of unpreparedness for any crisis by this administration.

The President is always absent in crisis. It is his style but he now needs to put on his military uniform and return to the front lines to calm the situation. Sending Ministerial clan representatives to areas where soldiers are protesting is a shame and only highlights the clan factions the Army is built on. The Ministers of Security and Information are not useful in these times of military discontent. Tweets from government officials are useless, especially, when they are written in English, because they miss the real target audience. The President must take hold of the situation before it escalates out of control. The soldiers have no duty to listen to the Prime Minister or anybody else because he is not their commander in-chief but they will listen to the President because they have respect for him from past engagements.

Many security analysts are asking: Who is the Somali government trying to please? Why are they fighting so publicly with their Armed forces in this difficult time? These are important questions and must be answered.

Reform is difficult everywhere but up to now the registration of soldiers was going well. All it needed was silent diplomacy and negotiations and the prosecution of corrupt senior officials which did not happen. Now, the real soldiers in the front lines are angry and feel their government has attacked them. This is a dangerous situation the IMF, World Bank and international community cannot rescue Somalia from and will even use against them to delay debt relief.

Mr. President, you wore the military uniform at the wrong time in the past. Now is the right time rescue your nation by putting it on.