Sunday, November 28, 2010

Museveni makes a surprise visit to Somalia

By Guled Mohamed

Mogadishu,, November 28 – President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda made a surprise visit to Somalia on Sunday in his second visit to Mogadishu since 1992 to check on his forces serving under the African Union peacekeeping mission as well as paying a courtesy call to President Sheikh Sharif of Somalia.

President Museveni landed around 1pm where he immediately met with dozens of Ugandan peacekeepers at an open field in the main AMISOM southern Halane base in Mogadishu. He flew out few hours later after chatting with ordinary soldiers sand meeting with his top commanders and Somali leaders.

Museveni’s visit caught everyone in surprise including Ugandan peacekeepers who were only informed of the visit after he landed at the Aden Ade international airport in Mogadishu.

“I think you have done well her for the last 4 years. We should be happy that our country is taking the lead in helping solve the Somalia problem which has eluded many others. You must adhere to the culture of the people of Somalia. I just want you to adhere to our strict code of conduct and treat the people of Somalia with dignity,” he said, wearing green military fatigues with a matching green safari cap, his famous trade mark head gear.

The troops were simply mesmerized by his visit. They welcomed their leader to Mogadishu with songs and dance. “Jeshi yetu ni jeshi ya watu. Tuko hapa kusaidia nchi ya Somalia kupata amani,” the troops sang in Swahili. The old man danced and clapped to the patriotic songs.

He later held a private meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi and Speaker of parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden at a UN compound within the main AMISOM base amid tight security.

Before flying out after 4pm, President Museveni visited the AMISOM main hospital run by Ugandan peacekeepers where he consoled wounded and sick AMISOM peacekeepers from Uganda, Somali government forces wounded in the ongoing battles in Somalia as well as civilian patients receiving free treatment at the hospital. The civilians he saw were mainly those who have been wounded as well as young women patients suffering from fistula, a common problem in Somalia largely due birth complications as a result of early marriage.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to welcome our brother President Yoweri Museveni to Somalia. He is the first president to visit Somalia in the last 20 years. We see his visit as historic and we warmly welcome him,” President Sheikh Sharif of Somalia said.

Museveni said he was happy to see the three top Somali leaders together.

“I came to check on our troops but also to consult with the President. I am very pleased to see the President, the speaker and the new Prime Minister united. So am very very happy and our troop’s morale is high,” he said.

He chose his words carefully when asked when his forces would pacify Mogadishu.

“The question of taking the capital is not something very crucial. It can be taken if the troops are enough. I don’t think that is the problem, the problem is enough manpower and equipment. It is not just taking the capital it is also this is Somalia, Somalia belongs to Somalis. The most important thing element or help our Somali brothers are to rebuild their soldiers including the army. That is the most important thing. Any other thing is just temporary,” he added.

Ugandan peacekeepers were simply elated to see their President in Mogadishu, a city riddled with bullets and destroyed by nearly 20 years of a never ending conflict that has left many people dead and many more wounded.

“I am very happy to see our President in Mogadishu. His visit will improve our morale. He has told us that we have been granted a pay rise in accordance with United Nations peacekeeping standards. We will now be paid $1,028 up from $750 of which $250 was deducted by the government for the mission maintenance. This is really positive news,” said Sergeant Fred Baguma.

For private Mukona Eliya, a waiter at the senior AMISOM officers mess where President Museveni went for a brief from his top commanders including Force Commander Major General Nathan Mugisha, the visit by his commander in chief will go a long way in motivating them.

“I am very happy to see the President coming to our mess. His visit will surely motivate us to work even harder to support our Somali brothers. He spoke to us and give us morale and urged us to work closely with the Somali people,” he said with a big grin.

Below are some more questions in italics President Museveni responded to during his rare visit to Somalia.

Are you disappointed with the international support you have been getting?

“Yes, they don’t take the Somali problem very seriously. I hear they are in oceans having a nice time in the oceans but the problem is on land. I don’t know how much money they are spending in the oceans. But pirates who got to steal ships in the oceans come from land. I don’t know whether the Somalis have been aquatic. Have they become aquatic? Sea animals, I think they are land animals. The efforts should be here on land to help the transitional government to build an army and then help us who are playing support role,”

How do you feel to be the first president to visit Somalia? What message do you think this will send to other African leaders?

Well I was here 20 years ago when I visited Aideed and Ali Mahdi. Now I came back to check on Sheikh Sharif.

The situation was different then than now.

“Even then there was a problem. I had come to advise Aideed and AlI Mahdi to agree. That is what I was appealing to them but today I am happy to find the President, speaker with the Prime Minister all together. I am very happy. I think it’s a good nucleus,”

What is your message to the Somali people?

“To the Somali people my message is that they really should know that power is important but destiny of a country is more important to me or him or anybody. For instance the Somali people have lost a lot of time you know how much can you do in 10 years. If you loose 10 years or 20 years without doing anything for building it’s not really fair to the Somalis. Really I would call upon the faction leaders to bring peace and then go constitutional. If you want power look for it constitutionally have peace, have a transitional period which is agreed upon like these people even those people who are not in the government and then transitional govt results into elections and then the Somali people will gain their sovereignty. Because sovereignty of the Somali people has been usurped by people with guns. That should be reversed, the people of Somalia should regain their sovereignty they should be the ones to lead their country not the people with guns,”