Saracen is a Ugandan company associated with General Caleb Akandwanaho alias Salim Saleh, senior advisor to and younger brother of President Yoweri Museveni.
Officially, Kampala denies that Saracen’s activities will harm the African Union Mission to Somalia, Amisom. “As long as their operations do not contravene UN procedures it does not harm the peacekeeping mission. They are not training an anti-government force, are they?” asked army and defence spokesman Lt-Col Felix Kulayigye.
Amisom is in the country to prop up Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government.
However, The EastAfrican has obtained confidential information to the effect that Saracen started the training without due approval from the African Union.
Last week, Saracen International representatives met top diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia to explain the scope of Saracen’s activities in Somalia, but the Nairobi meeting raised more questions than answers.
The meeting was called to thrash out contradictions between Saracen and Amisom activities, but the diplomats were shocked when Saracen admitted to having breached procedure and usurped Amisom’s mandate.
Among other things, Amisom’s mandate includes training of the country’s fledgling security forces — Uganda has to date trained over 2,000 Somali army officers and nearly 1,700 police personnel, all of whom underwent training on Ugandan territory. Another 1,000 Somali army officers are to be trained in Uganda next year.
Saracen’s activities clearly parallel those of Amisom. Even more controversial is the fact that the identity of the donor who contracted Saracen for an estimated $10 million remains a mystery, although sources point at UAE contacts while others mention only “a Muslim nation.”
It is understood these donors are wary of potential terrorist attacks from Somali Islamist fundamentalist group Al Shabaab.
Sources reveal that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government wants to build up Puntland’s army to fight Al Shabaab in the Galgala Hills, after which the TFG will launch a war against Somaliland, the self-declared independent northwestern state. It is this scenario that poses dangers for Kampala, whose troops form the bulk of the Amisom peacekeeping force.
When The EastAfrican contacted Gen Saleh, he admitted that his company was involved but declined to comment on the details and implications of his company’s activities in Somalia, saying he had not yet read the article this paper ran last week.
“I have been told about the story but I can’t comment on something I have not read.” The East-African first reported last week that Saracen was training militia in Puntland.
However, other army and security top brass in Kampala said there was no risk to Kampala as this was “a normal, private business matter” that has little or no bearing on the country’s security.
“In countries with insecurity problems such as Somalia, there is always an urge to hire private security. This has forced Somalia to do the same and Saracen is only training them,” said the army spokesman.
Still, other events unfolding in the troubled Horn of Africa nation raised troublesome scenarios for Uganda. On Friday, December 11, Somaliland authorities seized a plane in the region’s capital Hargeisa that was allegedly carrying military supplies to Puntland, where Saracen is conducting the training.
Somaliland Interior Minister Mohamed Abdi Gabose said the cargo plane had flown in from South Africa via Kampala, carrying military uniforms and other supplies for the newly recruited militiamen in Puntland, French news agency AFP reported on December 12.
Not only is this in violation of the international arms embargo against Somalia, but crucially, it puts Kampala in the awkward position of having to explain the role of its officials in parts of Somalia, other than Mogadishu, where its peacekeeping contingent is legally restricted under AU and UN mandates.
Already, government and army officials are issuing denials but this will not necessarily convince Somaliland and critically, Al Shabaab that Kampala is not supplying arms to allies of TFG.
This leaves Amisom in serious danger of being perceived as a force that strategically secures the capital while covertly training and arming militia to take control of other areas
Going by the public outcry in July when Al Shabaab attacked two locations in Kampala killing at least 76 people, a terror threat is not something that Kampala wants to countenance, especially one that is seen to be self-inflicted by the shadowy activities of a senior government official.
Even with the explanation that Puntland has offered that the force being trained by Saracen is meant to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the contracting of this training has already raised controversy in the United States.
Michael Shanklin, a former CIA official, is named as having executed the contract but the funding has met with criticism in Washington for lacking transparency.
Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia and has been largely peaceful since 1991 when the rest of Somalia started to fall apart, is citing Saracen’s activities as a threat to its own security and that of the entire Horn of Africa, given the “legal vacuum” in which the militia in Puntland are being trained.
Source: The East African Standard