June 11, 2014. Tanzania has agreed to train Somali soldiers as part of its efforts to support peace and security in Somalia, but some Tanzanian officials have expressed concern that further involvement in Somali affairs could invite terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab.
The agreement to train 1,000 Somali soldiers first came about in 2012, when Tanzania accepted a request by former Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, which was then revived by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud this year.
“We prepared the training camps and as I am speaking everything is ready. We are waiting for them to select 1,000 soldiers to come here for the training,” said Salva Rweyemamu, director of communication for the Tanzanian president. “We want to train them to be professional soldiers so that they maintain their country’s security to allow citizens to engage in development matters.”
Tanzania’s Minister of Defence and National Service Hussein Mwinyi said the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) has been leading training and peacekeeping operations in East Africa and beyond in a bid to build stronger regional co-operation.
“To build powerful regional co-operation, TPDF conducted numeral military trainings to military officers and troops from member countries of the East African Community and South African Development Community,” he said in an address to parliament on May 21st.
In the past year, he said, TPDF offered training opportunities to troops and military officers from Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, the Seychelles, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
He also said Tanzania previously trained Somali troops in response to a request from the African Union, but he did not say how many troops were trained or when.
He mentioned other operations where Tanzania has taken a leadership role in peacekeeping missions, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon and South Sudan.
‘Big trouble’ for Tanzania?
While the government has said it is prepared to train the Somali soldiers in Tanzania, members of parliament and citizens have cautioned against expanding that mission and sending troops to Somalia.
Job Ndugai, deputy speaker of Tanzania’s National Assembly, said it was too dangerous for national security to send troops to Somalia, which would antagonise al-Shabaab.
“On this I will be the last person to consent,” he told Sabahi. “Look at what is happening to Kenya. Seriously, the government should not even contemplate the idea of sending troops to Somalia. If anything, we should facilitate conferences for conflicting parties to resolve their differences.”
He said Tanzanian troops cannot be sent to any country without the parliament’s consent through the Defence and Security Committee, and he is sure that any such plan would be blocked by lawmakers.
“Tanzania should not engage in this business completely. I will be the last person to support a troop intervention from Tanzania to Somalia,” Ndugai said.
Lawmaker Vincent Nyerere, a member of the Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) opposition party, said Tanzania should conduct an independent study to consider whether the benefits of engaging in the Somali conflict are worth it.
“We better learn from our brothers in Kenya,” he told Sabahi. “Previously Kenya had no hostility with Somalia, but by intervening in Somalia they are facing terrorism attacks [regularly]. We should avoid this trap.”
Deus Kibamba, executive director of the Tanzania Citizens’ Information Bureau, also said the government should avoid direct engagement in the Somali conflict.
He said the TPDF was formed to defend Tanzania’s borders and its citizens, but the current trend of peace intervention worries him.
“The terrorist groups we are hearing about like Boko Haram in Nigeria are funded by countries or individuals with grudges against the government in power,” he told Sabahi. “As we continue supporting what we call peacekeeping, slowly we create enemies.”
“I think Tanzania will soon overstretch our resources if we engage in every conflict that happens,” he said. “We will create enemies and it will be big trouble for our country.”
Tanzanian forces will not be deployed to Somalia
Rweyemamu reassured Tanzanians that the government would absolutely not be sending troops to Somalia and that “there has never been such a request from Somalia or the African Union”.
Rweyemamu also dismissed concerns that Tanzania would become an al-Shabaab target for assisting the Somali government.
“Remember there is a legitimate government in Somalia,” he told Sabahi in an interview June 5th. “Tanzania will not be in the war zone. Our interest, which is the interest of anyone with a like mind, is to see peace prevailing in Somalia. It is in everyone’s interests to restore peace in Somalia — including al-Shabaab’s.”