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Is the lifting of arms embargo on Somalia a timely decision?

WardheerNews Editorial

On December 1, 2023, the 15-member body of the United Nations Security Council lifted the over 30–year arms embargo on the Somali Federal Government but maintained it on Al Shabaab terrorists. Unanimously adopting draft resolution S/RES/2714(2023), it nullified resolution 733 (1992). The final resolution of 2714 (2023) read that lifting the arms embargo is meant to recognize the inviolability of Somalia’s sovereignty and the gains thus far achieved. 

The United Nations Security Council meeting
/photo credit-Horn Diplomat

Following the fall of the military regime and the ensuing anarchy, arms embargo on Somalia was justified by the desire to limit the number of heavy weapons falling into the hands of combatants, including warlords who at the time dominated politics. The presence of Alshabab and its sophisticated network to infiltrate in the ranks of the Somali National Army did not help.  

Despite the collapse of the state and the aftermath of the civil war, Somali people never ceased to reconcile and revive their national state. Between 1991 and 2000, about six peace conferences were held in Djibouti Manifesto Conference (1991), National Reconciliation Conference in Addis Ababa (1993), Cairo (1996), Sodare in Ethiopia (1997), Baidao conference (1998). These conferences culminated in the 2000 Arta (Djibouti) peace conference which birthed the first inclusive national government. Somalia has indeed traveled a long and treacherous journey.

Some progress has been made in institution building and governance. However, political wrangling’s often orchestrated by weak leadership and endemic corruption are notable challenges. In the last 8 years significant recovery has been registered. For example, Mogadishu is getting safer by the day and it is the second fastest growing city in the world. Puntland is as stable as it gets and has shown political resilience in state building and infrastructure development. On the down side, though, slow or no tangible progress in state building in Jubaland, Galmudug, Southwest, and Hirshabelle, which needs more attention.

With this backdrop, does lifting the arms embargo hurt or help the safety of the nation? Divergent opinions on the lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia have surfaced from many corners of the political spectrum. Some are less optimistic than others.

Matt Bryden, Chairman of SAHAN Research Institute, often well versed in the security sector, provided general support to the lifting. However, he qualified his support by cautioning the government of Somalia that arms falling into the hands of Alshabab is possible with serious impact. Moreover, Matt stated that “It’s not clear that lifting the arms embargo would actually change the situation or allow the government to improve its military position,” Although Mr. Bryden’s concerns are legitimate given the past history of the Somali National army losing chatche to Alshabab. The question is whether the benefit of lifting the embargo outweighs the shortfall.

Another less known Somalia Think Tank called HIRAAL took a stern opposition to the lifting of the embargo. A report it prepared in June, prior to the decision date, HIRAAL cited “internecine clan conflict,” “clan power sharing”, and porous ports as reasons to maintain the embargo on Somalia. Somali politics has never been free from “clan.” Now that there is no real clan conflict, it is prudent to think of finding an alternative method of governance to replace the 4.5 clanism.

One more factor mentioned in the HIRAAL report is the existence of an “open market” for arms sales. This is a legitimate concern and could be turned into a viable recommendation for the current administration to raid on “open markets” that sell arms. No legitimate country should have such a market. 

Wardheernews underscores some of the concerns raised by those not endorsing the lifting of the arms embargo. However, with the planned exit of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), the benefit of arming the Police and National Army outweighs the inadvertent negative results, as noted by the UNSC in that “the Federal Government of Somalia needs to implement the national weapons-and-ammunition-management strategy and promote further professionalization, training and capacity-building for all Somali security and police institutions.” Moreover, the thinking of the Security Council that lifting the embargo is a positive sign of giving the Somalia people their sovereignty back cannot be ignored. 

For nearly two decades, Wardheernews has consistently been at the forefront of addressing the challenges and opportunities facing Somalia, while also proposing a way forward. We see real change and as such believe that it is time to arm Somalia’s police and military like other nations. This support is predicated upon good governance being established, non-clan based professional army be established, and corruption be curtailed in the government. 

With the exit of ATMIS looming, Somalia will be responsible for its peacekeeping. Now that national institutions are being modestly revived and safety is of a paramount concern to all sectors of the society, the following steps will contribute to addressing these challenges:

1) Establish and maintain a professional army that promotes its leadership on the basis of merit and not on the notorious clan favoritism. If clan politics permeates this institution, not only will it fail to defeat the terrorist group but it will have internal friction to the detriment of Somalia’s wellbeing. 

2) Foster a positive relationship between the federal government and regional states, so that any potential smuggling of arms could be curtailed to the extent possible. The Federal Government of Somalia needs to support the decision of the president of Puntland who has shown leniency towards the demand of the Opposition politicians and find ways to revive its collaboration and coordination on the security sector of the country.

3) Begin regulating, if not banning all together, private armies working for international entities that are in Somalia. There is no reason why any foreign troops would exercise the authority reserved for the national state. A phased change is needed and the SFG must draw a timeline to ban private armies bringing private armies and weapons to the country.  

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