Mogadishu. The African Union Peace-keeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has shifted operational tactic from military engagement to talking with communities in order to win hearts of Somalis. The new approach involves reaching out to clan heads and ordinary citizens to challenge the dominant al-Shabaab propaganda that AMISOM troops are infidels who must be ousted.
According to Lt Col Robert Nahamya, the commander of UPDF’s 19th Battalion Operating in Buufow under Battle Group 22, the al-Shabaab had won many hearts by convincing Somalis that AMISOM seeks to impose paganism on the country.
“This harmful propaganda cannot work anymore because we have started engaging these communities and we are telling them, ‘look, AMISOM is composed of Muslims [as well]; it is wrong for you to simply fight on religious grounds’,” he said.
The Colonel added: “This is already working and soon we shall defeat the enemy.” Uganda was the first to deploy in Somalia in March 2007, and still has the largest number of soldiers in the 22,000-strong AMISOM.
The UPDF drove the militants out of the capital, Mogadishu, and are, alongside other troop contributors such as Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, helping to keep al-Shabaab in check. Some security lapses have resulted in deadly attacks by the militants, the recent one being last month’s simultaneous attacks on three Ugandan bases in which President Museveni, the Commander-in-Chief, said up to eight soldiers were killed.
The militants, Col Nahamye said in Mogadishu on Tuesday, used the polarised clan system to spread its propaganda by setting up one clan against another.
THE POWER OF CLANS
Capturing minds. Clans and religion are central to the lives of Somali people and war planners have decided that capturing the minds of the people, rather than military confrontation, is essential for lasting peace in the country. Opinion leaders. Regarding the clan system, Col Nahamye said that they have identified key opinion leaders, mainly the elders, whom they are encouraging to preach oneness.
Although Somalis are principally the same people, speaking a common language, the clan-based governance structure is so divisive and often erupts in inter-communal violence. AMISOM, field commanders say, is playing the neutral arbiter to bridge the divide.