Somalia faces setbacks rebuilding national police from scratch

By IndepthAfrica
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Apr 24th, 2013
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Security – Somali police are increasingly playing a more prominent role in keeping their country back on its feet after 22 years of conflict. But peace in Somalia is still a long shot. In areas with any significant gatherings, police presence is a permanent feature. A drive past the city offers a preview of the Somali culture – instant justice.

A policeman, using the cane, disciplines a boy who offends another during a football match, near the fence of Mogadishu’s Aden Duale International Airport, close to the city’s green security zone.

For a city that suffers suicide bombings, an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) police officer would not permit an innocent football match by local boys, regularly used in most of the Al Shabaab’s battlefields to deliver Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

Security officers characterize security in Somalia as stable. It can be calm in the morning and very fluid shortly afterwards. The threat of sporadic attacks makes community policing much harder. It means as a police officer, you have minimal contact and that makes information gathering much harder.

But such is the challenge of building the security force in Somalia.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, admits rebuilding the security forces from scratch is one of the main challenges facing his government, a key agenda of his Presidency.

“Rebuilding the national security system is very expensive. It requires institutions, public confidence and training. Somalia is moving forward on this front,” the President said.

However, his main challenge still remains. The forces were previously militias known by the locals, who committed crimes during their days, before crossing over. Can they be trusted to police and defend?

“The security is part of the problem. There is the lack of trust and people have bitter memories. How can we make the people believe these are the people to defend their wealth?” President Hassan asked.

Rex Dundun, the Nigerian acting as the AMISOM Police Commissioner, agrees: It would be much harder to build a Somali Police Force while ignoring the abuses committed by some of its elements.

They used military weaponry against the civilians. There are widespread cases of gang rape and the list of reforms required to re-create a professional police force remains.

“We are in the rebuilding phase. The police force has just re-grouped after 20 years. These are people who took part in things (crimes) against the community,” Dundun explained.

The focus of the AMISOM Police Force, which has formed police units, totaling some 142 officers, is working to help rebuild Somalia’s rapid response capacity.

The Formed Police Units are helping the Somali government to train officers who would deal with public order management—the feared group of police squads, known as the anti-riot police. They are also deploying the Individual Police Officers, whose work is to provide Police Operational Support.

These officers train the Somalis to build intelligence gathering systems and the operational support that is required to keep a modern African police force running.

With most of the African police forces still classified as undemocratic, an AU-led effort to reform the Somali force is also viewed with similar suspicion.

Dundun said each of the officers joining the AMISOM force were selected on a competitive basis after a thorough vetting process, to exclude any officers with any human rights violations.

“We keep records of those joining the force. They are people who have been in at least three missions with clean records,” Dundun said.

Somalia’s usually under-equipped police force is fledgling. Even though most lack basic tools of trade, their ability is helping to restore order on the streets of Mogadishu, where traffic is building.

They are deployed in limited numbers, to hotspots, markets and every place where the public in Mogadishu meet to execute their business.

For the AU, the challenge of reforming the Somali force is two-sided: Making sure the police reforms go deeper enough to punish police offenders and helping to build the organs of state that can stand the test of time in Africa’s fastest growing experiment at a continental-driven peace and stability.

By Kennedy Abwao

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