Somalia: UPDF go months without pay..

Halkaan ka akhri

Discontent is brewing within the Ugandan peacekeeping contingent under the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with soldiers alleging they have spent months without pay.

Originally the soldiers, under the Uganda-AU understanding, were supposed to receive an allowance of $500 on top of their salaries. $100 of this is given to them in Mogadishu to cover accommodation and food while the rest is credited on their bank accounts in their respective home countries.

The money is released in a lump-sum from the AU Peace Fund to defence ministries of the respective governments, who in turn should deposit it on the soldiers’ accounts.

However, Ugandan soldiers in Mogadishu have written to The Independent complaining that they have not received their allowances since November 2008. They also say families of their fallen comrades have not been compensated yet AU releases the money every month. This has sparked suspicion among the Ugandan contingent that their allowances have been diverted by their Ugandan superiors. “This  money is being used by these corrupt officials for their personal gains yet our families are dying of hunger,” wrote one of the soldiers who requested for anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The soldiers also say that whereas the AU increased their allowances from $500 to $750 effective December 2008, Ugandan authorities have not formally communicated these changes or reflected them in their salary disbursements. Interestingly, the Burundi contingent on the same mission did not only receive formal communication about the increment, but have also been earning about $750, up from $400 since January this year. Uganda and Burundi are the only countries who have contributed troops to AMISOM. 

The soldiers say the most affected belong to UGABAG 2 contingent which was deployed in October last year. The soldiers say they were instructed by the defence ministry to open new bank accounts different from the ones they already held where part of their allowances would be deposited. Left without explanation why their accounts have not been credited, the soldiers suspect the new accounts system was instituted to deny them chance to monitor their earnings.

Sources at AMISOM say there has been a salary crisis and confirmed complaints that peacekeepers haven’t been paid. But an official familiar with AMISOM has dismissed the Ugandan soldiers’ claims. The official, who declined to be named because he does not speak officially for the mission, told The Independent, “A couple of months ago we had a similar situation with the Burundian contingent. Sometimes there are delays [in funds being released] from Addis [Ababa, the seat of AU]. But they all end up getting paid. In all honesty the donors are so strict that they have sent people to monitor the payments of the soldiers in the TCCs (Troop Contributing Countries), in Addis Ababa and AMISOM Headquarters in Nairobi.”

Gaffel Nkolokosa, the AMISOM public information officer, says the AU has received no official complaint from soldiers whether Ugandan or Burundian that they haven’t been paid. He confirmed that allowances for peacekeepers was increased from $500 to $750 beginning January this year. He says half of the money is paid to the troops’ personal accounts back home. “But whether the ministry of defence in the home country is involved, ask the Ugandan government there.”

AMISOM’s spokesman, Maj. Barigye Ba-Hoku, said: “The contract is not between the soldier and AU but AU and the country. So the responsibility of paying the soldiers doesn’t lie with AU but with the government. To claim that a commander in Somalia can eat their money is baseless. Commanders don’t touch any money.”

Uganda’s army spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye said the AMISOM troops have not received their allowances since December. But he blamed the AU’s bureaucracy for delaying the release of money.

“We got information yesterday [May 22] that the payment process has been cleared and now we are waiting for Bank of Uganda to do its part and the money will be credited to their accounts,” Kulayigye said.

But soldiers in Mogadishu say that in what seems a move to calm the growing discontent, they were on May 16 paid $300 and told it was for November up to January. “Commanders after realising that we will get to know [the] fact[s], they started silencing everyone who talk[s] on that matter and worse still denying us access to communication and this was done by confiscating our mobile phone[s],” wrote one of the soldiers.

He said even the money turned out to be fake dollars and they refused it. He said commanders pointed out some soldiers as being behind organising the refusal and “they are now expecting action from above.”

Defence Minister Dr Crispus Kiyonga told parliament in February that AU owed Uganda Shs45 billion for AMISOM where the country has up to 2600 troops. This is debt accrued from unpaid and redeployment allowances, injury/disability and death compensation, as well as self-sustenance allowances.    

The AMISOM is funded by USA, Britain, Sweden and EU, which last month pledged about €60 million to boost security in Somalia, part of which went to AMISOM.

Uganda has lost more than 10 troops since deploying in Somalia in 2007.


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