President makes surprise visit to Somalia

Monday November 29 2010

Museveni (R) visits the Amisom hospital in Mogadishu yesterday.

Museveni (R) visits the Amisom hospital in Mogadishu yesterday. PHOTO BY JOHN NJOROGE 

By John Njoroge

President Museveni yesterday made a surprise visit to the Somali capital Mogadishu. Museveni becomes the first foreign Head of State to visit war-torn Somalia in over 21 years. He last visited Somalia in 1992 when he held talks with warlord Mohammed Farrah Aideed.

His visit came less than 24 hours after the Somali Parliament approved a new cabinet led by the newly-appointed Somali Prime Minister Mohammed Abdulahi Mohammed.

During the three-hour-visit, Museveni held closed-door talks with the Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Somali Parliament and the Information Minister at Halane base camp, the Amisom Uganda Contingent Headquarters, south of Mogadishu.

He congratulated his Somali counterparts on the approval of a new cabinet and conveyed a message of solidarity to the people of Somalia.

Museveni pledged to continue assisting Somalia in every way possible to foster stability and peace in the country.

Asked about how many peacekeepers Uganda was ready to provide in addition to those on the ground, Museveni said he was ready to provide whatever number is needed if asked to do so.“

Uganda is a country of 33 million people. If there was a war we would be able to mobilise three million people. Raising troops for Somalia would not be a problem at all,” he said.

He also expressed joy over the newly approved cabinet. “I am very happy that the people of Somalia now have a new cabinet and are united,” Museveni said.

He expressed disappointment at what he called lack of seriousness by the international community over the Somali problem.

“They don’t take the Somali problem seriously. They are busy enjoying themselves in the ocean, having a nice time in the ocean. (Referring to the numerous warships that patrol the Somali coastline on the Indian Ocean) Do you know how much money they send in the ocean?

The pirates who go to the ocean to steal from ships come from land. Have you heard that Somalis have become aquatic?” Mr Museveni asked.

He called upon the international community to help the Somali transitional government and support the countries playing supportive roles to achieve stability in Somalia.

Sheikh Sharif and his government expressed gratitude to President Museveni and the people of Uganda for the assistance it has accorded Somalia since 2007. “This is a great honour and opportunity for us. We are honoured by your visit,” Sheikh Sharif said.

Asked about Museveni’s surprise visit to the Uganda contingent in Somalia, the UPDF contingent spokesperson, Cpt. Chris Magezi, described it as a miracle.

“No body here in their wildest dreams could have imagined what has just happened. The President’s visit is a massive show of solidarity with the people of Somalia and the work the peacekeepers are doing in Mogadishu. It has not been easy,” Capt. Magezi said.

He also described it as a powerful and historical event in the history of the mission and said it was extremely good for the morale of the Amisom troops.