By Paul Ndiho
Last months, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) welcomed its new member from the republic of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone’s Armed Forces (RSLAF). The advanced team joined Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti in the fight against al Shabaab. The 850-strong contingent will be deploying shortly into southern Somalia where they will operate alongside the Kenyan contingent.
Sierra Leone became the fifth African Country to join Amisom forces in Somalia, in the fight against al Shabaab a hardline Islamist group with links to al Qaida which has risen from obscurity to international prominence in the last couple years.
Critics of the Sierra Leonean government say the soldiers are needed back home to prevent possible violence, since they contend that their country is still recovering from the civil war that ended in 2002. Last month, while speaking to VOA, President Ernest Bai Koroma dismissed those critics and said that it was his country’s time to payback time to the international community.
“Now if we have gotten to a point wherein we have transformed our country from a warring country to a country that is moving on in development and growth, there is a need for us to support other countries who are now in the position that we were in some years back.”
The Sierra Leonean deployment will permit the Kenyan troops in Southern Somalia, to withdraw one battalion from the sector as per UN Security Council Resolution 2036 that was passed in 2012.
“We will be joining in the rest of the other contingents in AMISOM to ensure that we will be able to implement the African Union mandate in Somalia. The peace process is currently on enforcement; however the news is telling people that Somalia is getting back to where it was, so our main focus now is to assist in the stabilization of Somalia.” Said Lt. Colonel Abubakar Conteh, Sierra Leone Contingent, AMISOM:
Sierra Leone was engulfed in a civil war for more than a decade that left more than 50,000.00 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. It was regional forces under the umbrella of The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group or ECOMOG that intervened and restored calm. Now Sierra Leone’s Armed Forces feel that it’s their turn to partake in such missions.
“We are now partakers of global peace enhancement, and of course during our own ten years of civil war, people came from different countries to support our peace achievement, and now that we have the opportunity to reciprocate that particular aspect, we are very happy:”
A resident of Free Town share the same sentiments.
“I’m happy because this shows that our country is improving, we are now members of the international community, our soldiers are being called up for peacekeeping missions, it makes me really happy,”
The AU Peace and Security Council authorized the integration of a contingent of RSLAF into AMISOM early last year. Since then, AMISOM troops, in support of the Federal Government of Somalia, have pushed Al-Qaeda affiliated al Shabaab terrorists from much of south-central Somalia.