Atmis troops demand pay arrears as Somalia mission nears end
Questions of accountability are starting to emerge as different cohorts of Uganda’s military deployed for peacekeeping operations in Somalia have gone for 27 months, spread across five years, without pay, despite the European Union – the mission’s biggest funder – regularly disbursing funds to cover allowances for at least 5,000 peacekeepers serving in the war-torn country.
The latest cohort, who returned from Somalia on December 31, 2022, did not receive any payment for all the 12 months they spent in the Horn of Africa country, while the one it replaced in November 2021 was also not paid for nine months.
Sources said that Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia miss a chunk of their pay, with each of 1,500 soldiers – identified in military parlance as a battle group – missing one to three months’ pay in 2020, 2019 and 2018.
‘Problem is elsewhere’
A diplomat of an EU country told The EastAfrican that “the problem is elsewhere” and that all money approved for Somalia had been disbursed for all the years in question. This shines a spotlight on Uganda, whose decision to lead the Africa fight against al Shabaab militants in Somalia, won it respect.
Uganda was the first country to have boots on the ground in 2007 in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom, which mutated to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis in April 2022.
An EU spokesperson confirmed that the first payment of support to the military component of Atmis in 2022 has been made to the African Union Commission, in line with the February 17, 2022 EU-AU Summit Declaration, which makes continued support to African-led Peace Support Operations (PSO a priority. This is evidenced by the adoption of two assistance measures totalling €730 million ($792.2 million for African-led PSOs through the AU under the European Peace Facility (EPF for the period 2021-2024, the spokesperson explained.
As a result, the EU Council on July 6 2022 approved an additional €120 million ($130 million to the resources previously mobilised for Amisom/Atmis in 2021.
Last year’s approved funding was in addition to the previous support of €65 million ($70.6 million under the EPF that covered July 1 – December 31, 2021.
But Brussels is reluctant to point the accusing finger at its partners at the AU, which is the political and diplomatic overseer of the Somalia peacekeeping operation since its inception in 2007. It also hesitates to query Kampala for non-payment of mission allowances.
The EU explains that Atmis funds flow from the European Commission to the AU Commission, which is responsible for channelling them to the troop-contributing countries.
“This means that the payment of the allowances to the soldiers is not responsibility of the EU, but of our African partners,” the EU spokesperson said.
While the European Commission applies stringent financial audit and expenditure verification, Brussels says soldiers might receive part of their allowances once they are back in their home country.
“But this is in the hands of our African partners, not the EU.”
The issue has now gone before Ugandan Parliament, where for the second time in as many weeks legislator Ronald Balimwezo raised the issue of vanishing allowances for Atmis soldiers, citing a contingent dubbed the Uganda Battle Group (Ugabag 34 deployed in November 2021. They have not been paid for the 12 months they served yet they returned on December 31, 2022. Thhe MP noted that even the previous cohort – Ugabag 33 – had not received pay for the last nine months of their Somalia deployment.
“These soldiers were deployed and came back; some have died without getting paid,” he said. “Why?”
Sources in security circles say the problem goes deeper as Battle Groups 32, 31 and 30 also claim arrears, in addition to allowance rates that have shrunk from $1,028 at inception to $460 – which is even not paid.
Still waiting for money
The official response is that Kampala is still waiting for money from Brussels.
“It’s true, the soldiers who were in Somalia came back, and have not been paid,” Junior Minister for Defence Jacob Oboth told Parliament on February 2. “The whole mission is funded by the EU, and it has not sent the money.”
At inception, the EU budgeted for each soldier in Somalia to be paid a uniform $1,028 allowance per month, a figure that was docked by $200 by the respective governments of troop-contributing countries as administrative costs to pay for things like training and uniform.
This meant each soldier took home $828 for every month spent in deployment.
Cut Amisom budget
But in 2016, the EU cut Amisom budget by 20 percent, which saw each soldier lose $88 of their basic allowance. Sources familiar with the matter say this figure is further docked along the way, and what is paid into the soldier’s account is $460.
Analysts argue that the EU is currently overstretched by the Ukraine war, and is suffering mission fatigue in Somalia, where it has spent €2.3 billion ($2.5 billion over the past 15 years.
The EU, however, maintains that it remains committed to funding the mission as it prepares to hand over all defence and security duties to the Somali National Army (SNA in December.
In December 2022, when Uganda’s Parliament’s Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs toured Somalia they were greeted with a chorus by UPDF about delayed allowances. UPDF forms ATMIS’s Sector One, which secures Somalia’s most strategic facilities, including the airport, Parliament, the UN agencies village and other diplomatic missions in the Capital. The Uganda contingent also deploys in forward-operating bases in Middle and Lower Shabelle, where the highest concentration of al Shabaab terrorist cells is.
Unique to Uganda
The majority of the peacekeepers are Ugandan and Burundian, who were the first in Somalia. Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti joined the mission later. But the scandal of non-payment of soldiers’ allowances seems unique to Kampala.
“There are often delays in January pay every year, but this is due to the process of harmonising salaries of new troops replacing old ones. Such delays normally do not last more than a month such that by this month, every soldier receives what is due to them,” a source at Kenya’s Department of Defence said.
We could not obtain explanation from Atmis, whose spokesperson Gifty Bingley, said the crisis involves many partners.
“There is some following up to be done to get you accurate information. It’s not just about Atmis, as you are well aware there are other stakeholders involved,” she said.
Liberated 80pc of Somalia
The peacekeepers have liberated at least 80 percent of Somalia, amid vast risks of attacks and ambushes by Shabaab, a non-existent transport infrastructure and shortage of materiel and force multipliers.
Meanwhile, Somalia is preparing to take over security operations as Atmis prepares to exit. Mogadishu has been engaging frontline neighbours – who have also borne the brunt of al Shabaab terror – to help it shore up its defences ahead of Atmis exit.
Kenyan President William Ruto, Djibouti’s Ismael Guelle and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met in the Capital on Wednesday with host Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and approved Somalia’s request for an all-out war, including its need for lethal weapons and coordinated support to annihilate the militants.
“(The Summit welcomes the request by the Somali Government to obtain both lethal and non-lethal support to equip the SNA units and to enhance the firepower capabilities of current SNA operational units,” a communique said on Wednesday.
Somalia is still under an arms embargo, a 30-year ban imposed to prevent clan warlords from obtaining weapons. In November 2022, the UN Security Council extended the embargo to November 2024, arguing that al Shabaab are still a threat to the country.
Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo