Somalia: Not So Wise Lifting the Arms Embargo


By: Moaghe Gulled

Somalilandsun – Since the appointment of the South Somaliagovernment in November, we hear repeated calls for lifting of the arms embargo imposed by the Security Council in 1992. On November 8 2012, a hotly debated session of the UN Security Council failed to reach a consensus on African Union’s request to lift the arms embargo.

This may prove wise to have avoided returning

the Somali peninsula back to the oppressive past.

In 1992, after the collapse of the Somali state, as marauding gangs with technicals took the rule of law into their hands in the capital city, Mogadishu. Under the guise of a general who created an efficient system to kill and rob innocent civilians from other clans. Pillaging leaving nothing behind and leave no one untouched. Forcing poor farmers give food stored for the dry season. Instigating more than 200 hundred thousand people starved to death in Southern Somalia, the world could not endure anymore. The US sent its troops to Somalia in 1992, Restore Hope, to provide safe passage for food aid to be delivered to the neediest. Flow of arms into Somalia continued unabated and fueled inter-clan wars. Close to half a million people took refuge in camps in Kenya escaping the war and the atrocities the general and his men were causing. It is under these circumstances the UN Security Council imposed the arms embargo on Somalia in 1992 under Security Council Resolution 933.

The embargo has been broken more often than most but the UN Security Council has so far felt obliged to continue imposing it. To monitor the violations, the Security Council passed resolution 1916 (2010), mandating the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea to keep the Security Council and its Committee informed if there were violations. In July 2012, the UN Monitoring Group report, described in details the countries that violated the embargo. Countries like UAE, South Africa were implicated. The report has gone as far as exposing the US government breaking the arms embargo by the use of its drone operations.

The report came out one month before the end of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) tenure. They complained to the Security Council saying because of its timing, the report was used for political reasons. This is not to say the timing of the report could not have been used for political reason. The TFG tried to discredit the work of the team of experts, but having accountability mechanisms was the ‘answer’ to the problems in

Somalia. At the end, the report persuaded parliamentarians to snub electing politicians associated with the report.

On his appointment, the new Minister of Defense of the South Somali government is calling for the lifting of the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council in 1992. Even the African Union made fresh calls as well, which is greeted with applause by the South Somalia government. The rationale is, equipping the dilapidated Somali National Army (SNA) to fight Al Shabaab. There are benefits in lifting the arms embargo on Somalia, but the risks are much greater.

This call for lifting the arms embargo is based on two mislaid hopes: that the revived SNA would genuinely take charge of the security in the country, and that the SNA would replace the AU Peace keeping Forces in Mogadishu. Those hopes would swiftly fizzle if the UN Security Council lifts the arms embargo.

The SNA is a clan-based army. Those clans aligned with the government would fight for the government and those opposing would put up a fierce resistance to make government fail. Clan allegiance continues to shift constantly. The international community cannot base their decisions on shifting fault lines of clan politics. Transitional arrangements of supporting the peace keeping efforts in South Somalia would be necessary to continue.

One of the anomalies existing is Somali soldiers fighting on the side of the AU forces do not fare well and are paid a fraction of what the AU soldier is getting. With nothing offered in the way of compensation if killed or maimed in the line of duty. The chances are that he will sell his gun to his nemesis or end up in one of the regional countries.

Imagine if the arms embargo is lifted how a government that does not control the many ports other than Mogadishu could control the inflow of arms into the country. What will happen to the AU Peace keeping forces, when sophisticated arms are imported by Al Shabaab and other extremist groups to fight them? It will lead to a total rupture of the painstaking efforts African Union forces made to make Mogadishu safe for the government.

The Al Shabaab fighters vanished and are now part of the population. It will be easy for them to infiltrate into the military ranks. NATO forces had to abandon joint military trainings with the Afghan forces because of Taliban sympathizers turning

their guns against the peace keeping forces. Al Shabaab infiltrating would certainly be more dangerous and devastating. It will also send shockwaves across the region. Namely, the military doctrine of the Somali government never changed. A revived strong SNA with Al Shabaab influence will certainly revive Somali irredentism encouraging ethnic Somali majority region 5 of Ethiopia and North Eastern province in Kenya to secede. This is a constant threat to the regional countries.

Equipping and reestablishing the SNA sends shivers down the spine of the people in Somaliland. The SNA was responsible for the bloodbath that took place in Somaliland from 1982- 1990. During this period, tens of thousands of civilians were either killed or maimed. The bombardment and ethnic cleansing tactics sent the entire civilian population into refugee camps in Ethiopia and throughout the region. Fears of conflict have not gone away. You hear South Somali politicians publicly saying Somaliland is part of Somalia and will never secede from Somalia. For now the North South disputes are minimal but building the SNA will alter the equilibrium.

The worry that needs to be taken seriously is the impact of reviving the SNA which will have a calamities effect on the region. Having seen how irresponsible the leaders in the South have been, it is likely they might try to bring Somaliland back to the union by force. No one in Somaliland will think of the military threat from the South as a theory. However, if the international community insists on lifting the arms embargo, Somaliland people are looking forward to the US and the international community giving them guarantees that the SNA will not attack them or use its forces against Somaliland. If it happens, it will not be the first time the Somali State used its might against the people of Somaliland, but this time, the cost to the world will be greater, full responsibility would be entirely theirs.

Moaghe Gulled is a political analyst on Somalia and Somaliland politics. He also specializes on issues of governance in the Horn of Africa.