Emelia Ennin Abbey (left), Staff Writer, Daily Graphic, in the interview with Police Commissioner Hillary Sao Kanu, ATMIS Force Commander
Emelia Ennin Abbey (left), Staff Writer, Daily Graphic, in the interview with Police Commissioner Hillary Sao Kanu, ATMIS Force Commander

Sustaining security in Somalia: ATMIS Police playing significant role

Since 2007, the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) now the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has been providing operational support and capacity building to the Somali Police Force, following a breakdown of law and order in the country as a result of civil war.


The over a decade-long civil war was sparked by rival clan warlords in Somalia in 1991 following the ousting of President Mohamed Siad Barre who headed a coup in 1969.

ATMIS has three components, namely police, civilian and military, which have been working together to ensure security in Somalia.
In the interview below, the Daily Graphic's Emelia Ennin Abbey (EEA) speaks with the ATMIS Police Commissioner (PC), Hillary Sao Kanu (HSK) at the ATMIS Force Headquarters in Mogadishu, Somalia, on the contributions of the ATMIS police component in combating the Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Emelia Ennin Abbey (EEA): What is the capacity of the ATMIS police component in terms of numbers? 

Hillary Sao Kanu (HSK): Well, the population of ATMIS according to the Communique of 1068 meeting of the United Nations Security Council is 1,040, and that includes the five contingents of Form Police Units (FPU) and the Individual Police Officers (IPOs) from six contributing countries, namely Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

We are supposed to have five FPUs but currently we have four and our population is about 856 instead of the 1,040. But again it is not about the population but about what we can do for the people of Somalia, particularly for the Somali Police Force (SPF). 

With the resources we have on the ground, I believe we are all working selflessly to meet the mandate of the police and we are all cooperating regardless of the fact that we are coming from different countries. We have one goal, which is to ensure that the Somalia Police provide equitable policing and security for their people.

EEA: The ATMIS mission is scheduled to end by December 31, 2024. Do you see the Somalian Police as ready to take over their state security architecture after ATMIS?

HSK: We have impacted a lot. A lot has been achieved in terms of capacity building, project development, infrastructure and training. And I can say a lot has been gained by the Somalian Police, which can enhance their ability to take over by December 2024.

EEA: Are you confident that the Somali Police has been well equipped to take over their security operations when ATMIS winds down its operations?

HSK: From our perspective, training and learning in the police is a continuous process. Let's take for example Sierra Leone when it experienced 11 years of civil war, there were foreign troops, there was ECOMOG that supported it in fighting the rebels who entered the city and were pushed out by ECOMOG. 

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) deployed in Freetown and reform process started. Within five years Sierra Leone was able to build up proper security by itself. But not withstanding, it is a continuous process and as I am talking to you, training is ongoing in different areas, in the areas of investigation, cyber crimes, traffic and even regular duties. 

We cannot say for Somalia, it will end come 2024; it has to continue. New crimes and other new things come up and they have to be trained in those areas. So it is just a start and so we are there to put some sanity in place. Prior to now, they were unable to investigate cases of Sexually Based Violence (SBVs), now they can. 

Previously the Somali Police had no close relationship with the general public, but now community policing has enhanced their abilities to engage civilians and their people, talking to them about Al-Shabaab and information sharing. 

And so as we get along, they will get used to it and be able to handle security, law and order by themselves. So I believe with ATMIS leaving here by 2024, the Somalian Police will need more support in the security sector.

Intensified attacks

EEA: We have heard reports that also as the mission is winding down, Al-Shabaab have intensified their attacks on both civilians and police. What are you doing differently to ensure the protection of your command and the civil populace?

HSK: The draw down is ongoing and the military is about to start the second phase of withdrawing 3,000 troops from Somalia. But for us, this draw-down affects military officers who are in the Front Operation Bases (FOBs). We are not in the front line; we are not fighters or military personnel or an infantry. We are only here to enhance peace and take care of the internal security. 

We are here to support the Somali Police to ensure that they are well equipped to meet international standards, maintain law and order as well as security in Somalia. So the police are not going to be a part of the draw down. Ours is to ensure that whatever affects policing, we give the Somali Police the needed support. But the draw down has no effect on the ATMIS Police for now.

EEA: As the Police Commissioner of ATMIS what has it been like working with officers from different countries?

HSK: I think for me it has not been a challenge because this is not my first mission. United Nations African Mission in Dafur (UNAMID), my first mission, was a hybrid mission where we had different nationals from Europe, America and Africa. So here it is just a continuity, mostly working with our African brothers and sisters having similar cultures, so I see no challenges but rather an opportunity to learn from other countries we have not met before.


EEA: Where would you say ATMIS stands regarding Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Human Rights? 

HSK:  For the Somali Police, one of our basic rules is engaging with the leadership to identify gaps and we have identified a number of them. This is why we have the ATMIS Training Department and the Reform Restructuring and Development (RRD) Department to engage the leadership of the Somali Police and identify needs. 

They tell us the areas they need training or the areas they need SOPs developed. We then have a meeting with the senior leadership team (SLT), plan and implement such activities. For instance, the RRD along with the training department have developed different SOPs in traffic, human rights, gender based issues, communications and logistics. So it is left to the Somali Police to go over it and affirm their readiness to accept, then we help print them out. The SOPs aid them in executing their various duties.

EEA: There are fears that when the soldiers depart, we may have an Afghanistan like situation, such that Al-Shabaab may overpower the Somalia Security Forces. What is your view on such fears? 


HSK: I believe the Somalian government has pushed greatly to degrade Al-Shabaab. There are places that were manned by Al-Shabaab and the government has done a lot to oust them and they are still on it. They are preparing for another phase of operation where they can do more to degrade Al-Shabaab in Somali territory. 

For me I believe they are ready to take over security. Both the police and military, and I will not say after the Mission has left, Al-Shabaab will take over. No, because I believe in the Somalia military and police. They are doing a lot. A number of arrests have been made both within and out of Mogadishu and they are having huge support from the regional governments, Kismayo and Baidoa, who are all in the forefront of fighting Al-Shabaab. 

We have challenges of arms and ammunition resulting from the arms embargo but the little they have, they are really making use to degrade Al-Shabaab with the support of ATMIS Military and Police. So in our perspective, I believe the government of Somalia and Somali Police Force and Army are on top of the situation.


EEA: What can you say officers under ATMIS police have learnt that can be applied in their home countries? 


HSK: Like I said this is not my first mission and policing for me is the same all over the world. Our main focus is the protection of lives and properties, to ensure that human rights are respected and protected and as well ensure respect for the rule of law. The only difference for me is in regard to culture and religion as we have to cover our heads. Some of the lessons we are picking from here is tolerance and respect for other people's culture and all that is helping shape our character, attitudes and behaviours.

EEA: Could you share any feedback you may have received from the Somali Police and how you have been able to manage conflict between the ATMIS and local police?

HSK: Since I arrived at the mission six months ago, I do not think I have received any report from the Somali Police concerning any of our officers, so I believe they have lived within the mandate and code of conduct of ATMIS. When I speak with the Somali Police, they speak highly of our officers and so I am 100 per cent sure that our officers have conducted themselves properly, especially with regard to the training given to the Somali Police. 

We recently just concluded the station management course. We have lined up about 11 Training of Trainers (TOTs) courses in different areas and interestingly the Somali Police have invited us to conduct another for the senior cadre. At this point in time we want to see the Somali Police take the lead in training their own officers. 

ATMIS Police have also been very supportive of the Somali Police in terms of assisting them with the provision of medicines and in any other way we can, even from our individual pockets and through lobbying as was done during the Ramadan.

EEA: Have you lost any officers during the mission? 

HSK: None at all. We have lost some members but only through natural causes and not in combat.

EEA: Any message to the government of Ghana?

HSK: I want to take this opportunity to send greetings to the government of Ghana and the Inspector General of Police for supporting us and providing such wonderful resources for us. Training police officers is not an easy task, so for a government to release a contingent to support another country is a big deal. 

So I really appreciate the Ghanaian government and the Police Administration for sending their vigilant officers to support Somalia at this challenging time of their history. I want to say we are having a good output from these officers and they are really maintaining their professionalism and showing they are coming from the great African Nation, Ghana.

EEA: Ghana is preparing for an upcoming election and you have seen the impact of war in your home country, Sierra Leone, and going on peacekeeping in Dafur and now here in Somalia. What is your advice to young people in Ghana and Africa regarding conflict, insecurity and terrorism among others? 

HSK: My advice is for the youth because they are the active members of the country. They must make sure they engage in fruitful activities and not to listen to politicians because most politicians fight to stay in power and often the youth are used in fighting their causes. So I encourage the youth to engage in fruitful activities and not in things that can destroy their country. 

I will also recommend the system of bringing everybody on board. It is something that Africans must take up. We must be inclusive oriented, carrying along women, youth and persons living with disability (PWDs) because they are all part of the system. No one should be left behind because these are the issues that cause problems. 

For instance, in Sierra Leone, the present cabinet has a number of women and youth between the ages of 29-32, so the civil population are happy about the set up of the cabinet with more than 30 per cent women representation in parliament and the cabinet. By so doing equity prevails. That is what I am trying to say to our sister countries; that there needs to be such initiatives to benefit all.

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