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An Army Without A Nation

by JJ Sutherland
Oct 5, 2010

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JJ Sutherland

Frank Langfitt, NPR's East Africa Correspondent, has the next piece in his series on Somalia on today. This story is about training the Somali Army, which is being carried out by European forces in Uganda. He found that the EU trainers definitely had some surprises.

Col. Philippe Bouillard, the training mission's deputy commander, says the biggest surprise was the Somalis' fighting skills. For people who'd spent so much time at war, they weren't very good at it.

"The guys fighting before in Mogadishu use the weapons, no aiming, no nothing, and only to launch some bullets," says Bouillard.

But Frank sent me an email saying he realized there was a deeper challenge than military ability.

One of the things that hit me while I was spending a day at the training camp for Somali soldiers is what it means to live in a country where there are hardly any government services or institutions. Things we take for granted - public education, a sense of national identity - barely exist. Most Somalis identify with their clan, sub-clan or sub-sub clan. One of the biggest challenges the European trainers face is trying to get Somali soldiers to think about Somalia as a nation, something actually worth defending.

French Capt. Jean Frachon trains junior officers. He told me when he started, most of his pupils didn't even know the Somali national anthem. So, he taught it to them.

These days, he begins each training session by having students salute the national flag, a white star against a blue background, and sing. Now, he says, most of the junior officers know the national anthem by heart.

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