Mid­dle-age So­mali woman com­mands re­spect of trainees

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY ROD­NEY MUHUMUZA

BANDA, UGANDA | A mil­i­tary in­struc­tor clad in fa­tigues and boots who barks out or­ders to men half her age has be­come the un­likely star of a Euro­pean Union pro­gram to train thou­sands of So­mali troops.

Nearly 98 per­cent of the trainees in the six-month class be­ing held in a re­mote Ugan­dan vil­lage are men. But it is 40-year-old Fa­tuma Has­san Noor, who re­turned for ad­vanced train­ing, who of­ten gets men­tioned in dis­cus­sions of what the pro­gram can be proud of af­ter its man­date ex­pires in De­cem­ber.

Western gov­ern­ments are in­ject­ing mil­lions of dol­lars into a pro­gram that they hope will con­trib­ute to the sta­bi­liza­tion of So­ma­lia, and of­fi­cials sta­tioned here hope ded­i­cated stu­dents like Ms. Noor, when they fi­nally re­turn home, can prove that the money was not wasted.

Col. Michael Beary, an Ir­ish army of­fi­cer who is in charge of the train­ing mis­sion, said he is not send­ing sol­diers back to So­ma­lia to de­feat the mil­i­tant group al-shabab.

Col. Beary said he is try­ing in­stead to cre­ate dis­ci­plined sol­diers who will re­turn home with “a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude.”

The 608 So­mali sol­diers in the cur­rent class are be­ing trained in good cit­i­zen­ship, women’s rights and how to stop gen­der-based vi­o­lence, as well as weapons train­ing, first aid, mine de­tec­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion dur­ing bat­tle.

The 60 train­ers in the vil­lage of Ibanda come from 12 Euro­pean coun­tries. The pro­gram al­ready has trained 1,800 So­ma­lis since 2010.

The train­ers say the mis­sion is a small but vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion to­ward the cre­ation of a pro­fes­sional army.

“This mis­sion is very suc­cess­ful,” Col. Beary said. “It is hav­ing a real ef­fect on the ground.”

Ms. Noor is well-re­garded be­cause she was a mem­ber of the in­au­gu­ral 2010 class but re­turned last year to train as a non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer, a step to­ward her goal of prac­tic­ing as an army nurse.

This time, she came with her daugh­ter, Amal Ahmed, who now says she is no longer afraid of a loaded AK-47.

“We don’t feel lonely when we are to­gether,” Ms. Noor said last week.

The girl glanced at her mother and said: “We com­fort each other. ... Some say my mother brought me here, but I tell them that I am strong enough to cor­rect my mother when she is wrong.”

The mother-and-daugh­ter pres­ence on a camp dom­i­nated by men has in­fused some ex­cite­ment into a pro­gram that is con­di­tioned by fluid and of­ten volatile events in So­ma­lia, which has lacked a sta­ble gov­ern­ment since 1991.

Al-shabab is on the mind of ev­ery­one at the Bi­hanga camp, where stu­dents train among struc­tures built to re­sem­ble Mo­gadishu’s ru­ins.

But the train­ers say they can­not af­ford to fo­cus on ter­ror­ists whose power is fading un­der pres­sure from for­eign armies back­ing So­ma­lia’s tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment.

The class hopes to cre­ate good cit­i­zens.

This think­ing, miss­ing in ear­lier ses­sions, is be­ing prac­ticed partly through what is called “train­ing of train­ers,” cour­ses in which a few fast-learn­ing So­ma­lis are taught skills they are ex­pected to pass on.

Ms. Noor is spe­cial­iz­ing in sav­ing lives in combat, and these days she spends a lot of time train­ing with rub­ber dum­mies.

“She’s good, very good,” said Ab­dul­lahi Kula, a trans­la­tor ob­serv­ing her teach­ing a class on CPR from a dis­tance.

Ms. Noor’s teach­ers say they like her en­thu­si­asm.

“I met her the first day she ar­rived,” said Por­tuguese Lt. Col. Mar­i­ano Alves, the camp’s train­ing com­man­der. “She was very ac­tive. Im­me­di­ately, she asked me how life was here, how I was do­ing. She is a nice per­son.”

Ms. Noor is a pri­vate in the So­mali army and the wid­owed mother of six chil­dren. She sus­pects she would be serv­ing tea back home if she were not in the mil­i­tary.

And she says she taught her­self how to speak English, a skill that con­trib­utes to her pop­u­lar­ity.

“When I go back home, the women will look at me and say, ‘Look at her, she’s 40 years old and we are 20,’ ” she said. “They will want to come here. But they can’t speak English like me.”

Many of the So­ma­lis here, who range in age from 18 to 40, are il­lit­er­ate, and only 15 per­cent speak English. The train­ers rely on a few trans­la­tors to im­part their lessons.

Each of the trainees will get $100 for ev­ery month spent at the camp, but they can only re­ceive the cash af­ter com­plet­ing the course.

Train­ers say the money does a lot to keep them mo­ti­vated.

“Like ba­bies, they start by crawl­ing, and then they start run­ning,” said Sgt. God­frey Onio, a Ugan­dan who has helped train the So­ma­lis since the mis­sion started.

Euro­pean and Ugan­dan of­fi­cials say they can­not con­trol what hap­pens af­ter the So­ma­lis re­turn home. There have been de­fec­tions in the past, with some frus­trated trainees join­ing al-shabab for bet­ter pay.

Roberto Ri­dolfi, the Ital­ian head of the EU del­e­ga­tion in Uganda, said any re­newal of the mil­i­tary pro­gram would be pred­i­cated on what hap­pens af­ter the man­date of So­ma­lia’s tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment ex­pires in Au­gust.


Fa­tuma Has­san Noor (top, left) and her daugh­ter, Amal Ahmed ,take a break from mil­i­tary train­ing in Ibanda, Uganda. Fel­low So­ma­lis are be­ing trained through a Euro­pean Union pro­gram de­signed to pro­vide a force that will con­trib­ute to the sta­bi­liza­tion of So­ma­lia. Ms. Noor in­structs trainees in combat med­i­cal care us­ing a man­nequin (above).

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