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Away from terrorism battle, Somali capital takes on another foe: Corrupt officers 

the new anti-bribery initiative is seen as an attempt to convince the Somali public and foreign backers that the government, plagued by a raft of other problems, is making significant progress in efforts to end an entrenched culture of impunity and entitlement among the country’s security officers.

By Judy Maina, judy.maina@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – For years, weeding out the ever-entrenched and pervasive corruption practice within Somalia’s security sector often seen as an unwinnable battle by successive governments the country has had since 1991 after warlords overthrew the central government, plunging the horn of Africa into over two decades of civil unrest.

Corruption and bribery practice has since became a normal practice within the country’s security system, thanks to the prolonged lawlessness and corrupt authorities who referred it as ‘business as usual’, creating a deep-rooted corruption tolerance within the society.

Somalia’s current government which has made tackling Somalia’s entrenched culture of corruption a top priority is weighed down by the ongoing battle by the al-Qaeda linked Al Shabab group, making it difficult for it to accommodate more challenging tasks, prompting local authorities to take matters into their hands to tackle the bribery-takings by security officers.

Meanwhile, the Mogadishu mayor Thabit Abdi who has for months raised alarms at the protraction of the open-secret bribe-takings culture by soldiers manning checkpoints across his city has issued an ultimatum to rogue security officers.

Mogadishu mayor Thabit Abdi.

“Any soldier caught red-handed accepting bribes at checkpoints will face the full force of the law and a military justice.” He warned shortly after a security meeting in the Somali capital last week.

For months, security officials have warned that a greater security threat may come from within the security system in the form of corruption which runs much deeper with in the army hierarchy, undermining efforts to restore security into the long-chaotic seaside city.

The move by the Mogadishu is seen as an attempt to curb lawlessness and improve Mogadishu’s tarnished image following a wave of deadly attacks that have dented public confidence in the government.

However, security has since been tightened to prevent further attacks by militants, deploying hundreds of soldiers manning strings of checkpoints across the city where cars and passengers have subsequently been searched, in a desperate attempt to restore security.

The new security efforts have seen early success.

Weeks now pas without a car bomb, after the deadliest attack on 14 in which at least 500 people were killed, followed by another smaller attack on a hotel, something the Mogadishu mayor said attests to the improving security of Mogadishu.

But the new fight against corruption within the security system and bribe-chasing officers appears to be meticulously prepared. Among the plans to hunt them is a bribery sting with marked bills and tapped cell phones to gather evidence about their involvement in  bribery cases.

“The fight against corruptions remains a top priority for us – and comprehensive plan is in place now.” Mr. Abdi said.

Across the Somali capital, soldiers at checkpoints demanding bribes from motorist are  common sight, making it easier for anti-bribery officers to catch many red-handed in the process.

For the city residents, bribery by soldiers remains a major challenge, thus praising the new anti-bribery push, but said it was not clear “who would decide on the level of seriousness or the targeting of cases” and recommended that an independent commission oversee the program.

“It’ll help a lot, but this needs to be supervised so closely so that innocent officers will not be targeted for any reasons. It could be because of grudge by a rival soldier, you know.” said Mohamud Abdullah, a retired police colonel in Mogadishu.

Nevertheless, the new anti-bribery initiative is seen as an attempt to convince the Somali public and foreign backers that the government, plagued by a raft of other problems, is making significant progress in efforts to end an entrenched culture of impunity and entitlement among the country’s security officers.

“Public trust is a key, and this will be a key step in the effort to restore law and order.” Says Mr. Thabit Abdi, of the new initiative.

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