EDITORIAL: Somalia must explain whereabouts of soldiers for credibility sake
EDITORIAL | Claims have surfaced this week that dozens of Somali soldiers serving in the national army may have been massacred while fighting in the Tigray conflict.
Former Somali Deputy Spy Chief Abdisalam Yusuf Guled claimed on Monday that over 370 Somali soldiers may have been killed while fighting alongside Eritrean soldiers against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF].
Guled, without substantiating the claim, indicated that the estimated 3,000 troops were transported by buses into Ethiopia from Eritrea which has been cracking down on the erstwhile ruling party in the country's northern Tigray region.
During a TV interview, Guled said he got the information from Ethiopian Intelligence sources. But his assertions have been easy to fight back. Somalia’s Information Minister Osman Abukar Dubbe on Tuesday denied claims of deaths and the deployment of Somali soldiers.
Terming it “fake news”, Dubbe ventured into political rhetoric, accusing the opposition of seeking political capital by maligning the government’s treatment of its army.
Fighting back an allegation as serious as Guled’s may be the easy part. What Dubbed didn’t know, however, is the unanswered question of accountability. Somalia’s army was once a respected pool of professionals right from the country’s independence in 1960.
However, as the country plunged into chaos following the ouster of the former central government led by Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, the army’s professionalism and commitment to defending the country’s honors fell by the wayside and was replaced by warlords and their militia.
With no singular code of conduct or even desire to commit to one, Somalia’s army became animal walking but dead. This kind of ailment was supposed to be addressed gradually through the training and equipment of the country’s fighters.
But such cannot be gained if the government keeps quiet or ignores demands for explanations on the work or whereabouts of the army. Dubbe dismissed claims Somali soldiers were fighting in Tigray.
But ever since the claims emerged, a number of families in Mogadishu and Galmudug have come forth to state they have no idea where their kin in the Somali National Army are.
We understand Somali soldiers receive constant training from different countries, including Eritrea which trains Somali youths recruited by NISA secretly from various regions in the country and taken to Asmara without the knowledge of their parents.
Relations between Eritrea and Somalia thawed in 2018 after leaders of the two countries visited each other. The move was initiated by Ahmed, who took office in April of the same year.
The leaders of the three countries Farmajo, Afwerki, and Abiy Ahmed signed an opaque security cooperation agreement in Asmara which also is aimed at enhancing economic, political, social, and cultural. The deal seems went into effect without parliamentary approval.
Can the government account for all the soldiers? Can the authorities at least inform the next of kin in case any of the soldiers died or was incapacitated? The government can do better if it can also facilitate communication channels between the soldiers and their families.
Our soldiers are human beings first, and fighters second. As is tradition with most civilized militaries or societies, transparency is crucial. The government risks driving a wedge and creating a bad perception for the Somali National Army [SNA] if information cannot be revealed and if it operates as if it were a secret society.
This is not to say the claims made on Monday may not just be pure propaganda. There are those who have argued that such allegations often influence the UN Security Council’s decision on the arms embargo, which was extended to the end of this year.
Until that embargo is lifted, Somalia National Army cannot equip itself with modern weaponry.
Somalia is a country that has been in chaos and conflict for 30 years and seeking support in the rebuilding of its army from Eritrea under a dictatorship with a UN arms embargo gives a signal that the current leadership of Villa Somalia is thinking of power consolidation.
A lack of truth, however, could be more detrimental. The Somali National Army has been rebuilding slowly. This means that it needs better public perception to be able to recruit, benefit from societal intelligence and for communities to see it as their foremost protector.
What is more, Somalia’s President Farmajo and government officials in general risk being branded as leaders who used the military as their personal mercenaries to achieve political ends, rather than build a formidable force that can defend their country.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti denied reports about Somali soldiers involved in the Tigray war as "false and unfounded".
Somalia currently has too many problems of its own. To be involved in a far-off conflict in Tigray would be a strategic blunder that unnecessarily detracts its lean security forces from the abject problem at hand: al-Shabaab fighters.
It is what the government does to explain, not deny, that will help the country.