The fate of Somali army recruits trained in Eritrea made headlines again days after a member of Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based lobby group, shared on social media an excerpt from a report on the human rights record in Eritrea. With unsubstantiated allegations of Somali soldiers’ participation in the war against Tigray rebels in Ethiopia, the Somali opposition has taken over and amplified Sahan’s rallying cry.
The excerpt from the 17-page report on Eritrea’s human rights sparked a chain of events designed to dramatize the plight of Somali army recruits trained in Eritrea.
From the start of last week, opposition-linked media and the Coalition of Presidential Candidates, lead by firebrand former president Hassan sheikh Mahamud, restarted their campaign to denigrate and pressure the government to reveal more about these soldiers situation.
Back in January, the Somali opposition and regional sponsors hostile to Somalia’s rebuilding tried the same tactics but failed when the government refuted the unsubstantiated claims.
Then five days ago, on June 9, protestors claiming to be parents of the young army recruits in Eritrea reappeared in Mogadishu’s streets demanding the return of their children. Spontaneous demonstrations are a rare occurrence in Mogadishu for mainly security reason and the opposition reportedly paid these demonstrators.
The government previously said communications between soldiers in training and their parents are continuous and protected and none of these protestors ever approached the Ministry of defense or the Somali National Army (SNA) on any grievance related to this issue.
Coincidently, young people appeared in Garowe, Puntland, claiming they were part of the young soldiers sent to be trained in Eritrea and they escaped. They didn’t provide enough information like the training locations or other details that may shed some light about the rest of the recruits.
Their stories, hastily prepared to support the unrest in Mogadishu, were inconsistent and aimed at stoking the fire, but this did not fool anyone as this is not the first time that the Puntland administration led by Said Deni has tried to sow discord in the capital.
The government’s reaction was not long in coming.
First, the minister of Information, Osman Abokor Dubbe, once again denied these “baseless” accusations of Somali soldiers fighting against the Tigray rebels. He eloquently dismantled the arguments conveyed in the report and criticized in return opposition’s silence on Kenya’s air strike on civilians in Somalia the week before.
Second, to silence a frustrated opposition, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has appointed a committee of high level delegates to investigate complaints from Somali parents who say they have not received any information about sending their children to Eritrea for training.
The opposition’s response was swift and said it is not enough to send government officials to investigate what they call the government failure to address parents’ complaints. They proposed in exchange to send a delegation comprising representatives of the civil society and other “free agents”.
This whole plot is quite clear. The elections are approaching, cracks appear within the opposition and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is still popular as ever. Opponents, and their sponsors, are desperate to find a way to remove him from Villa Somalia at all costs.
But much more than the elections, Matt Bryden, the Sahan director, and his military experts Colin Robinson and Emmanuel Deisser, all wanted by the Somali justice, fear a return of this fiercely independentist government which is pulling apart their network intended to keep Somalia divided and under international supervision.