Uncertain for European
Westermann (in the background) is seen here with a Hungarian colleague and a Kenyan interpreter. As part of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) for Somalia, Westermann and his colleagues are providing training for recruits with the Somali army. It's a mammoth task that requires that Westermann and other soliders give it their all.
By Anne Backhaus and Johannes Korge
October 22, 2012
German soldiers are participating in a European Union mission in Uganda to train Somali soldiers to help bring peace to their wartorn nation. A visit to the camp shows just how difficult it is to turn raw recruits into loyal, effective fighters. Not even Brussels is convinced of the mission's usefulness.
The German soldier is squatting in the Ugandan savanna as 30 pairs of eyes follow the felt-tipped pen in his hand. He is writing the most important commands onto a metal slate, once in English and once in Somali: "Attention" and "Fire."
His muscles twitch under the skin of his tattooed arms, and mosquitoes buzz around his shaved head. It's hot in the savannah, but dark thunderclouds are gathering on the horizon. "Let's go then," mumbles Ralph Westermann, a master sergeant in the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces.
On this day, he will push the 30 men, all recruits from Somalia, on a patrol through the bush. He will drill it into them that they can't just spray random fire with their AK-47s. He'll tell them that it's often better to switch the lever to semiautomatic, aim and fire. The next 30 recruits will arrive tomorrow. This has been Westermann's job for the last three months.
Westermann, a 42-year-old who likes to box and lift weights, is one of 19 Bundeswehr soldiers working in the wilderness of western Uganda. Their mission is to give the Somali army a backbone. To that end, the European Union has sent them to Bihanga in the southwestern corner of Uganda, together with 65 fellow soldiers from 12 other European countries. If the mission were stationed in Somalia, the recruits would be shot to death more quickly than they could be trained. It would also be too dangerous for the trainers. So the camp is in Uganda.
The program is called the European Union Training Mission - Somalia (EUTM-Somalia). The EU soldiers are training 551 Somali recruits who landed in Uganda in July. This is the mission's fourth training course. "In the first three months, practically all of them are still civilians," says Westermann. They'll fly back to Somalia, and back to war, at the end of the year. If Westermann trains them well, they stand a chance of surviving and could possibly even help resolve a problem that has plagued the world for more than 20 years.
Militias have been fighting each other on the Horn of Africa since 1991, when then Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was forced to flee the country. The violence and chaos in the country isn't just the doing of the pirates who repeatedly hijack ships, but also of the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab, which cooperates with al-Qaida.
The government in Mogadishu is the only hope for lasting peace. Some 10,000 soldiers, most of them from Uganda, protect Somali politicians and have driven al-Shabab out of the capital. About two weeks ago, Kenyan troops expelled the Islamists from the port city of Kismayo.
But Kenyans and Ugandans are foreigners, and even if they win, they won't be able to maintain control over the country in the long term. The government's army is a desolate bunch, theoretically consisting of 10,000 soldiers who are miserably trained and poorly equipped. They're better at dying than at fighting. Europeans like Westermann are in Uganda to change that.
A Camp Full of Barriers
Getting to Bihanga involves a grueling, seven-hour drive west from Kampala, Uganda's capital, on a highway that turns into a rural road and then a dirt road, until the only way to go forward is with all-terrain vehicles. The route leads through villages of mud huts, surrounded by burning garbage dumps and semi-wild herds of goats. Eventually there is a metal sign, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, that reads: "Bihanga Training School."
More than 1,000 people live in Bihanga. The camp was built by British colonial rulers and later taken over by the Ugandan army. When the Europeans arrived two years ago, they got rid of the old tents and built long barracks with tin roofs that meet Western standards.
While the European soldiers stay in these barracks, Ugandan soldiers live with their families in nearby huts, which are separated from the EU camp by a fence. Chickens and goats run freely through the huts. The Ugandan soldiers' job is to provide security for the camp and accommodations for the Somalis.
Eight female Somali recruits are housed beyond another fence, where they are kept apart from their male counterparts. They will probably cause a stir in their Muslim homeland, but Somalia needs them to search women at checkpoints to make sure that they're not wearing explosive belts.
On this morning, the sun is beating down relentlessly, but Master Sergeant Westermann is wearing combat boots and fatigues. There are plenty of dangers in the six-square-kilometer (2.3-square-mile) training area. The tall grass hides snakes and poisonous spiders; the mosquitoes can transmit malaria. There is an obituary tacked to the wall in the mess hall for an Italian nurse who died of fever last year. And then there are the constant heat and the tropical storms, especially now that the rainy season has started.
Some of the attacks may be linked to power struggles within the many factions in power.
Reporters Without Borders has condemned the killings warning that "2012 could become the deadliest year of the past decade for media personnel in Somalia".
Read the complete story at Der Spiegel