What is the overall performance assessment of the African Union force's operations in Somalia ever since you deployed here in 2007?
I want to say that our mandate has to do with giving support to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) institutions. We have been helping them to implement the National Security Stabilisation Plan. We have helped them to dialogue and reconcile. We give them support to distribute humanitarian aid. In whatever we are doing, we must defend ourselves.
And I think we have done all that. More so, we have excelled in delivering humanitarian aid to the needy. About the distribution of aid, we have achieved more than 100 per cent. We have defended ourselves and equally defended the TFG when extremists were trying to overrun the government during the month of Ramadhan. Recently, the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca joined the TFG through talks. Our contacts have been engaging the Hizbul Islam and we are still looking forward and appealing to the al Shabaab to come forward and give peace a chance.
I have appealed to all these belligerents to come for talks with the government. I want to say we have sincerely done and fulfilled our mandate irrespective of our small numbers on the ground. We have even taken new ground which you must have seen. We are now dealing with foreign fighters who come with new ideologies. It is no longer the conflict among the Somalis. It is now a new chapter.
We are dealing with al Qaeda. We are dealing with a situation different from what we had designed for this mission in 2007. But all the same, we have been able to prevail over it and I think you can bear me witness. We have stood with the people of Somalia against all odds. Our public relations with the local people are very good. No wonder that is why al Shabaab are trying to make sure that our relationship with the people is jeopardised. But we have the resolve to make sure that these programmes are maintained irrespective of the pressure.
Are you winning this war?
Let me say that it is just a question of time because you cannot fight unjustified wars. The warring parties need to come back home and build their country. They have been fighting for the last 20 years, but what have they got? It is just misery. They are destroying their own capital. They have destroyed the environment. They have destroyed everything. They are only exporting charcoal. How can this place export charcoal?
Nobody will build this place, it is them. Whether they waste time or not, it will still come to them. Regionally, this is a conflict that can be solved if the region was serious. If Africa were to make concerted efforts, we could solve this problem. If we had enough troops, we could end it in one year. But because we are procrastinating, the problem will be delayed. It is a problem that can be solved but the more we delay, the more it becomes complicated. We need a robust force ready to do the job. We need more troops to do this job. Just give the troops equipment and we will do the job. There is no big deal here.
Do UPDF soldiers face any fighting challenges in urban areas given that they were used to fighting in bushes?
What was your impression when you visited them? We are prevailing. It is the situation that moulds us. We are very flexible. We just need more boots on the ground. We shall do the job. We need numbers because it's also not easy. Capturing a building can take you some hours and yet in the rural settings, you will have covered a whole village. Yes, urban combat is slightly more complex than what we used to do but we are prepared and we will do the job diligently. It is a learning process and we are doing well.
One of the key components for your mandate is to help the warring parties come to a round-table talks. How much have you succeeded on that?
The TFG forces have been affected by the political confusion that is prevailing in government. But right now, we are re-organising them and I believe if you went there next week, you will find them. They have been negatively impacted by the disharmony that prevails in TFG. Actually, my analysis is that there is a big problem to solve in this conflict. If they harmonise themselves then we will have solved a big problem. But there are good signs that they are trying to solve their problems because two weeks ago, the Prime Minister resigned and I think this was a good move. It is better they put their house in order, identify the priorities of which security is number one; two, reconciliation; and three the welfare of the people who badly need services.
The Amisom contract ends next year. What happens if you withdraw?
I think it will be renewed. When we came here first, we were supposed to spend months. But they keep evaluating the mission to see whether it should be renewed or not. But I do not think the world is about to forget Somalia. I don't think this mission will end next year because Somalia still needs this mission.
What is your comment on the countries that pledged forces but have not fulfilled their promise?
Well, we encourage them to come because it is not a two-country mission. Guinea was here. Djibouti and Malawi have also been here to study the situation before they deploy. We are waiting to see how soon they respond. If they don't, they will have let down their brothers because they are going through difficult times. I think if you want to help, this is the right time...Risdel Kasasira MOGADISHU SOMALIA