Ethiopian troops have threatened to withdraw from all major towns in Somalia where their troops have been stationed for the last few years. Only last weekend, they started withdrawing from the frontline town of Hudur. The insurgent group Al-Shabab immediately took over the town. This has caused a big debate within the Somali government and parliament such as why the Ethiopians are intending to leave, and why the Somali army did not stay put in Hudur?
Security has been the biggest flaw in the Somali transitional governments. They have had to rely heavily on foreign troops from the African Union and Ethiopia, which was controlling south western and central parts of Somalia.
A delegation from parliament has visited the strategic town of Baidoa in the southwest to try to convince the Ethiopians to stay longer and allow more AMISOM troops to be deployed there. There are currently one thousand AMISOM troops from Burundi in the town. Sheik Adan Madobe, an MP representing the Bay region, is part of the delegation:
“They told us it is not only Hudur – but that they intended to withdraw from places all over the country (Somalia). They said it was not their plan to stay for ever. They had always planned to hand over security to AMISOM and Somali government troops. They said they did not get any funding from the international community and no longer felt it necessary to stay.” Sheik Adan Madobe.
There are several other reasons why Ethiopian troops may be leaving Somalia. Some believe Addis Ababa has been angered by the government in Mogadishu replacing its most senior military commanders in Somalia without consulting them. Others point the finger at poor communication between the two governments. Abdirashid Hiddig, who is a member of the parliamentarian subcommittee on security, is critical of the government’s approach to security and blames it for the Ethiopian withdrawal:
“If there was a proper diplomatic or political channel to communicate with them, I think they would have waited until the troops that would take over from them are ready. It is not a secret that there was some communication problem.” Abdirashid Hiddig.
Somalia’s transitional period ended last October with the election of a new president, speaker, parliament and cabinet. In this short time Somalis have expected a lot from their government – at the very least to take control of the security situation. But, this is believed to be a long way off. With thousands of troops trained outside the country, Somalis are not yet confident that their army can take responsibility on its own.
Although the Somali government insists it is trying to pay soldiers’ salaries, critics say a lack of remuneration is damaging the army’s competency. Although they have given the current government credit for securing the capital with the help of African Union troops, they blame it for not extending its control outside Mogadishu.
The United Nations lifted the two decades old weapons embargo for a year in order to let the current government arm itself and have greater control over security. This has given Somalis some hope and many believe with the right armaments and permanent wages, the Somali military will be up to the job.