Ghana’s former President, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, has on a visit to Burundi praised Burundi and Uganda for their commitment to the peace process in Somalia.
He said: “Burundi and Uganda must hold themselves in high esteem and we salute you for the bold decision to assist in securing peace in Somalia.”
The 9,000-man African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) comprises soldiers drawn from Burundi and Uganda.
President Rawlings, who is also the African Union High Representative for Somalia, called for further international assistance towards the peace process in Somalia and urged Al-Shabaab to reconsider its position and get on board politically.
Addressing the media after meeting Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza in Bujumbura on Monday, the former President said his delegation called on the Burundian leader to express the African Union’s gratitude for the “professional and bold role that your soldiers have been playing in Somalia.”
The AU High Representative who was accompanied by Ambassador Boubacar Diarra, Head of AMISOM, said the troops in Somalia are fighting a war more complex than what the Americans are facing in Afghanistan and elsewhere with sophisticated weaponry.
“I say this mindful of the fact that your troops are fighting not as well equipped as they should be and this has made them extremely vulnerable. In spite of that they have displayed a lot of courage and we must praise them for it.”
On negotiations for peace, President Rawlings said: “Even as we are confident of pushing the militants against the wall we must consider welcoming any overtures to talk peace.
“There may be some who feel that we are so strong now so let’s crush them out of the way. Quite frankly people who are fighting from the standpoint of the force of conviction cannot be defeated that easily.
“Even as we do combat with them some of us will be exploring ways and means of engaging some of them politically so as to cut short this unending situation as soon as we possibly can.”
Flt Lt Rawlings welcomed the intervention of Kenya and Ethiopia and hoped it will ease the pressure on Burundian and Ugandan troops while facilitating the speedy implementation of the transitional roadmap.
He noted that while the road ahead will not be easy Burundi and Uganda troops can take pride in the fact that they “took us through the most dangerous period”.
President Rawlings said the reality of peace in Somalia was not as distant and elusive it seemed about a year ago. He disclosed that President Nkurunziza expressed his continued commitment to the process in Somalia. The Burundian President also called on those presiding over the peace process to be mindful of the huge sacrifices being made by soldiers from troop contributing countries.
At a press conference on Monday evening, Ambassador Boubacar Diarra praised Burundian and Ugandan forces for their bravery and reiterated the call on the international community to provide assistance that is commensurate with the challenges at hand.
President Rawlings and Ambassador Diarra later laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown in Bujumbura – a monument in memory of all Burundians who have laid down their lives in pursuit of a patriotic agenda.
The delegation also visited a battalion of soldiers who were training for deployment in Somalia and called on injured Burundian soldiers undergoing recuperation and rehabilitation. He urged them not to allow pain and despair to override their capacity to overcome their physical challenges.
President Rawlings is currently in Kenya meeting the political leadership and is expected to participate in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit in Addis Ababa on Friday. As a regional body comprising Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, IGAD has been instrumental in championing the peace process in Somalia.