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Somalia begins military reforms following rising terrorist attacks

Government begins early and direct payment of soldiers’ salaries as part of strategies to boost combat morale

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Somalia begins military reforms following rising terrorist attacks
(File photo)

Deployed in one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts, Somali soldiers risking their lives daily against Al-Shabaab insurgents were growing weary of being paid months late and shortchanged by their superiors.

“We never received the complete amount,” a captain told reporters on condition of anonymity, grumbling about “middlemen” who syphon off troops’ meagre wages — some as low as $100 a month — and plunder budgets meant for weapons, rations and uniforms.

Then in March, his pay arrived on time, in full and straight to his bank account, in what officials say is the first step in a radical shake-up of its graft-ridden armed forces.

The government, under pressure from foreign backers, has started paying troops directly, bypassing army commanders previously tasked with disbursing their pay but diverting the money instead.

READ: Mayor of Mogadishu, other top government officials injured in office explosion

Under the new system, payments are linked to a biometric database containing soldiers’ fingerprints, personal details, and bank accounts, replacing patchy records kept on Excel spreadsheets.

Officials say about 10,000 “ghost soldiers” were expunged from the records — roughly one in three troops according to government estimates, though analysts questioned these figures.

These fictitious troops either did not exist at all or had long ago deserted.

By taking control of salary payments, Mogadishu is seeking to cut out powerful commanders who, for decades, ran the Somali National Army (SNA) “as private fiefdoms,” Fiona Blyth from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia wrote in an April report.

The shake-up was fiercely resisted in some quarters of the army, with several soldiers deserting their barracks in March in protest.

A game-changer? –

But the government is pressing ahead. In July, it also began registering fighters from an allied militia into its security forces, and identifying older or injured soldiers for retirement.

READ: Al-Shabaab attack claims 12 lives in Mogadishu

Mogadishu says the reforms are a milestone in decade-long efforts to rebuild the army into a force capable of taking over when the roughly 20,000 African Union AMISOM peacekeepers leave.

“We are not there yet. A lot of things need to be done first… but ultimately I think it will be a game-changer,” a government adviser told reporters.

African soldiers were deployed in 2007 to provide muscle until Somalia’s army could stand on its own. AMISOM’s withdrawal is slated for 2021.

Somalia’s donors have long complained that there is little to show for the hundreds of millions poured into rebuilding the SNA.

In 2017, after a decade of international aid and support, an internal review concluded the army was a “fragile force with extremely weak command, control and military capabilities”.

Many units lacked weapons, basic medical supplies, and even uniforms.

That same year, the United States suspended aid for the SNA over fraud concerns.

But recent efforts to boost accountability and professionalism in the military have struck a chord with traditional allies.

The United States announced this month it was resuming limited, non-lethal assistance to an army unit in Lower Shabelle, where SNA and AMISOM troops liberated key towns from Al-Shabaab in April and May.

“The US notes several Somali-led steps towards security sector reforms over the last year, notably the biometric registration”, a State Department official told reporters.

Mohamed Ali Hagaa, a cabinet minister and top defence official, told reporter this “clearly demonstrates increased confidence in the security sector”.

Army in name only –

Analysts say the reforms, though important, gloss over a sobering reality: the SNA is nowhere near ready to secure a nation mired in civil war, clan violence and jihadists still controlling swathes of countryside.

“It’s really an army in name only,” said Matt Bryden, director of Nairobi-based think tank Sahan.

“Just because an individual has been biometrically registered and is on some payroll list, doesn’t mean that they are actually a trained soldier in a formed unit.”

The SNA faces a formidable foe in Al-Shabaab, which this month alone bombed the Mogadishu Mayor’s office, blew up a checkpoint near Somalia’s international airport and stormed a hotel with gunmen, collectively killing 49 people.

In January, heavily-armed jihadists overran a military camp on the outskirts of Kismayo, killing at least eight soldiers in one of their frequent ambushes of SNA locations. 

Efforts by Somalia’s international partners to ready the SNA for war have been criticised as being uncoordinated and piecemeal.

Some are trained by the British, others by the EU or the Turkish. Until 2018, the United Arab Emirates drilled its own troops in Somalia while the US, which focuses on drone strikes and Somalia’s special forces, mentors another unit.

READ: Militant group kill nine civilians in Somalia

Encouraging these myriad stakeholders — all with their own strategic ambitions in the Horn of Africa nation — to work together has been difficult, say analysts.

Until this happens, the SNA would be “highly uneven in their effectiveness,” said Paul D. Williams, associate professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

“Ideally, greater coherence would come from fewer partners directly training and mentoring the SNA. But no single country has proved willing to offer the entire package,” he said.

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East Africa News

Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

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Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

The Frelimo party, which has ruled the impoverished southern African nation since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its arch-rival Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

President Filipe Nyusi, who cast his ballot as polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), called on voters to show “the world we stand for democracy and tolerance”.

“Mozambique has chosen to move forward peacefully,” he said, adding that more than more than 4,000 observers had been deployed in the most-watched election in the country’s history.

“Let’s continue this process in a serene way. Peace means that everything must be done according to the rules.”

Nyusi, 60, is forecast to win a second five-year term despite his popularity taking a hit from chronic unrest and a financial crisis linked to alleged state corruption.

While the election is expected to see regional wins for Renamo, few think Frelimo will be unseated from government after 44 years at the helm.

“Frelimo is a machine,” said Castro Davis, a 42-year-old public servant in the capital Maputo, predicting a “straight-forward victory.” 

Elena Jorge, 50, told AFP she wants Renamo to win “but people know that these elections will not be free, fair or transparent — but we have hope.”

Around 13 million of Mozambique’s 30 million citizens are registered to vote at more than 20,000 polling booths, which closes at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Renamo is predicted to take control of three to five of Mozambique’s 10 provinces for the first time following a change of law allowing voters to elect provincial governors.

“This election will be a test for democracy,” said Ericino de Salema of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

“For the first time, the political geography of the country may change substantially, it may even lead to confrontation.”

Renamo’s candidate Ossufo Momade, 58, heads a party of former anti-communist rebels who fought a brutal civil war with Frelimo from 1975-1992, devastating the economy and leaving almost one million people dead. 

Renamo picked up arms again in 2013 to 2016, but tension continued until Nyusi and Momade signed a peace deal in August. 

But an armed breakaway faction of Renamo has rejected Momade’s candidacy and threatened to attack campaign events, raising fears the presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls could be marred by bloodshed.

The six-week campaign was one of the most violent in the country’s turbulent history, with candidates threatened, election material destroyed, and deadly clashes breaking out between supporters.

The opposition has already accused Frelimo of tampering with the vote.

Enrolment has more than doubled in the southeastern Gaza province, a Frelimo bastion, and civil society groups have expressed concern about the size of the increase.

They also estimate that there are around 300,000 “ghost voters” on electoral rolls — names on the electoral roll not aligned with real, potential voters.

“We definitely have some irregularities that put stains on the whole process,” said Hermenegildo Mulhovo of election monitoring group Sala da Paz.

The situation escalated last week, when the head of a local election observation mission was shot dead by members of a special police unit in Gaza’s capital Xai-Xai.

Lutero Simango, an MP of the country’s third biggest party MDM, accused Frelimo of “using all state means, including police and secret services, to intimidate people”.

Frelimo suffered its worst result at the ballot box — 51.8 percent — in local elections last year and has been severely weakened in recent years.

In 2016 it was revealed the government secretly borrowed $2 billion, sparking the worst financial crisis in the country’s history and uncovering a vast corruption network with links to the regime.

The government is also battling to recover from two devastating cyclones in March which displaced nearly two million people. 

And a shadowy jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds in the far north has delayed development of one of the government’s biggest selling points — the discovery of vast gas reserves that is hoped to put billions in state coffers and lift millions out of poverty.

The instability has already forced the National Election Commission to close 10 polling booths, however first Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Thursday. 

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Mozambican President campaigns on gas wealth ahead of general elections

The gas deposits could turn Mozambique into one of the world’s biggest exporters of liquefied natural gas

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Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi campaigns on gas wealth ahead of general elections
Mozambican ruling Party FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) Presidential Candidate and Incumbent Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi gestures as he delivers a speech during his party's last Mozambican General Election campaign rally on October 12, 2019 in Matola, Mozambique. - Mozambique general elections will take place on October 15, 2019. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

The discovery of vast gas reserves in Mozambique’s remote northern coast has the potential to transform the country and lift millions out of poverty.

That’s the message President Filipe Nyusi has repeated at every opportunity as he campaigned ahead of the country’s general election on Tuesday.

“With this project, the children of farmers will become doctors and the children of miners will become lawyers,” he said on the campaign trail.

But since the underwater treasure was identified almost a decade ago, questions have been raised about whether the colossal riches will ultimately benefit the nearly half of the southeastern African country living in poverty.

The size of the discovery is staggering.

Estimated at up to 5,000 billion cubic metres (175,000 billion cubic feet), the gas deposits have the potential immediately to turn Mozambique into one of the world’s biggest exporters of liquefied natural gas.

Some have already dubbed the country the “new Qatar”.

Energy consultancy Wood McKenzie forecasts that state revenue from LNG will reach $3 billion a year from 2030 — single-handedly doubling current revenue.

But development at the sites in the northernmost province Cabo Delgado has been repeatedly delayed — in part due to deadly attacks by a shadowy jihadist insurgency in the area — and has only recently started to make headway.

Construction began in August on a $25 billion project that French energy giant Total acquired from US firm Anadarko as part of the latter company’s takeover by Occidental.

And American gas giant Exxon Mobil is expected to finalise a $30 billion investment next year.

For the many or the few? –

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi campaigns on gas wealth ahead of general elections
(Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

Nyusi’s Frelimo party has been in power since the country gained independence in 1975, but its popularity has recently taken a hit due to a financial crisis linked to state corruption.

READ: Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

The president, running for a second term, has been keen to talk up the gas projects, estimated to create 5,000 direct jobs and 45,000 indirect jobs.

Of course, history is littered with examples of countries with huge energy wealth that enriches only those in power.

“Some countries have had natural resources for a long time, but a majority of their population stayed poor,” Nyusi said last week.

He pledged that would not be the case in Mozambique:

“We want and we have to make a difference.”

Nyusi said last month that the state would spend $880 million it expects to receive as part of the Occidental takeover on rebuilding areas devastated by cyclones Idai and Kenneth earlier this year, as well as paying off state debt and closing the budget deficit.

With 46 per cent of the country’s around 31 million population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, such huge sums raise the hopes of some voters.

“These resources will benefit everyone,” said Sara Lucas, a 35-year-old mother at Nyusi’s final campaign event in the capital Maputo on Saturday.

But this enthusiasm is not shared by everyone, with critics accusing the regime of entrenched corruption.

“As with everything else, these resources will only benefit the few,” said Stelio Inacio, a 41-year-old official from the former rebel group turned main opposition party Renamo.

Fears of fresh violence –

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi campaigns on gas wealth ahead of general elections
(Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

Even paying off state debt is contentious after it was revealed in 2016 that the government secretly borrowed $2 billion, plunging the country into the worst financial crisis in its history.

The “hidden debt” scandal uncovered a vast network of corruption with close links — allegedly including family members — to the regime.

“They said they would use the gas revenues to pay for the ‘hidden debt’. We do not want that,” said opposition MP Simon Macuiani.

“The revenues must first serve the economic development of the country.”

The opposition is not alone in fearing the wealth may not trickle down.

“Our forecast is that the poorest of the poorest in Mozambique are not really going to benefit,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an analyst at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

READ: Exxon to invest $500 million in Mozambique LNG project

“It is still crucial to have stability… Frelimo and Renamo have to stick to their political agreement if things are going to improve in Mozambique.”

The two arch-foes signed a peace deal in August hoping to turn the page on decades of conflict, including a brutal 1975-1992 civil war that left nearly a million dead.

But the campaign for Tuesday’s elections has been marred by violence, sparking fears the vote could sorely test the fragile peace.

Lutero Simango, an MP of the country’s third largest party MDM, said the gas resources could be “a curse or a promise of prosperity.”

“If the poor population of the country does not benefit, it will create the conditions for a new cycle of violence.”

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Rwanda deports controversial US evangelist

Rwanda announced on Tuesday that a controversial American missionary, who was arrested for calling an illegal public meeting with journalists, has been deported.

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Rwanda announced on Tuesday that a controversial American missionary, who was arrested for calling an illegal public meeting with journalists, has been deported.

Gregg Schoof, a Baptist, has been operating in Rwanda since 2003, mainly through his church and a radio station, Amazing Grace FM, which was shut last year over a sermon calling women “evil” and “prostitutes”.

He was arrested on Monday, alongside his son, at the start of a press conference at which he planned to read out a statement slamming the government’s “heathen practices”.

Francois-Regis Gatarayiha, the Director General of Immigration and Emigration, told AFP the son — who was not named — was released, but that Schoof was deported on Monday night.

Read Also: Rwanda arrests 5 suspects from Hutu militia based in DR Congo

“Mr Schoof was deported back to America for two reasons. His work permit had expired. When he applied for renewal, we found that his purpose for staying in Rwanda was no longer valid because his church and radio were closed,” he said.

He said that Schoof had been given a visa extension to prepare his departure from the country “on the condition that he does not disturb public order. So what he did yesterday was in contravention of that condition and we decided to deport him.”

The immigration office said they expect him to make arrangements for his other family members in Rwanda to travel back to the US.

Schoof’s church was among about 700 shut in February for “failing to comply with building regulations and for noise pollution.”

In a statement handed to journalists before his arrest he asked if authorities — by shutting his church — were trying to “smack God in the face … that is what devils do.”

“Is this government trying to send people to hell?” he asked, before slamming the teaching of evolution in schools, the handing out of condoms in schools, and the easing of restrictions on abortion.

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