Somalia protests against extended arms embargo amidst offensive against al-Shabaab

By Abdulkadir Fooday
Posted on Friday, 9 December 2022 14:37

Security officers patrol near the destroyed Hayat Hotel after a deadly 30-hour siege by Al-Shabaab jihadists in Mogadishu on August 21, 2022. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)

Despite protests by the Somali government, the UN Security Council voted last month to extend the three-decade-long arms embargo on Somalia. Mogadishu says the extension gives the militant group al-Shabaab an upper hand, thereby sustaining the fragility of the country.

Resolution 2662 (2022) gave a further lifeline to resolution 751 adopted by the UNSC in 1992 to limit the flow of weapons into Somalia, in addition to other restrictions such as a ban on charcoal, and the listing of certain individuals believed to be aiding terrorism and destabilising the government.

Despite these restrictions, the UN Security Council endorsed a major amendment in 2013 that allowed the Somali government to legally acquire a certain calibre of weapons.

‘Arms capability imbalance’

Nonetheless, Somalia has termed the embargo as outdated and only serves to embolden al-Shabaab and related terrorist groups.

Somalia’s permanent representative to the UN Abukar Osman told the Security Council that his country was now suffering an “arms capability imbalance” in favour of al-Shabaab, thanks to the embargo.

Osman further said Somalia had been forced to request the African Union Peace and Security Council to delay the withdrawal of an additional 2,000 troops by seven months because the Somali National Army had spent a “major portion” of its arms since the start of the campaign against al-Shabaab in July.

As a result, the country was running short of sufficient weapons to defeat al-Shabaab, said Osman.

Abdirahman Nor, a professor of security studies at Somalia’s Taha University, echoes the concerns of the Somali government that both the national army and al-Shabaab are on par in terms of weapons strength.

“In order to understand the impact of the arms embargo on Somalia, we must understand the type of arms embargoed, which is the heavy weapons.

“Therefore, the effect of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in light of the ongoing war is that the government forces and al-Shabaab will be equipped with the same calibre of weapons,” says Nor.

He adds that this scenario creates a dependency on countries such as the US, Turkey and the AU force, AU Transition Mission in Somalia  (ATMIS) for more firepower to sustain and win the war against the terrorist group.

This challenge could easily be addressed by lifting the arms embargo, says Nor.

The AU Peace and Security Council was unequivocal in its communique in July this year calling for the lifting of the embargo.

Mobilising regional support

Regional countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia have continually voted for the embargo despite public statements to the contrary.

Mahdi Hassan, an independent political analyst in Mogadishu, says the Somali government should mobilise regional support first and assure neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia that it can secure weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

“Somalia should mount a diplomatic campaign and negotiations to persuade the neighbouring countries that lifting the arms embargo will not be a threat to the security and peace of the region and globally, generally.

“Diplomatic talks and political dialogue are the only approaches that Somali should adopt to persuade the regional nations to endorse removing the arms embargo on Somalia,” Hassan tells The Africa Report.

Kenya, which has suffered the brunt of cross-border terrorism, has long maintained a stance in favour of the embargo. However, the recent change of guard in Nairobi seems to be warming up to the idea of supporting Somalia’s quest for an end to the embargo.

To lift or not to lift

Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN Martin Kimani told the UNSC that Somalia had proved to itself to warrant the lifting of the embargo while noting the sanctions were no longer viable.

“The partial arms embargo in Somalia cannot exist in perpetuity, as it is counterproductive and adversely affects the capability of the federal government to eradicate the existential threat posed by al-Shabaab,” said Kimani.

Hassan Abdi Hassan, a lecturer of political science at Mogadishu University, also calls for a concerted effort in the region by the Somali government to win over neighbours who will then propel the message beyond the continent and into the UN Security Council.

Hassan adds that the success of the ATMIS will be pegged on robust international support to enable Somalia to build the necessary means to take over security responsibilities from the AU forces.

“The withdrawal timeline set in the agreement is quite ambitious and hard to deliver. It will depend on how the FGS succeed in the training and deployment of the troops that will replace the positions left by ATMIS,” Hassan tells The Africa Report.

Success of ATMIS’ withdrawal

The continental force is expected to exit Somalia by April 2024 in line with the new Security Council-approved mandate.

However, that milestone will largely be informed by the pace of preparedness by the Somali Security Forces and victory over al-Shabaab.

Already, Somalia has indicated it has requested additional time to take over forward Operating Bases from ATMIS.

According to the Somali Transition Plan (STP), Somali Security Forces were expected to take over the FOBs from ATMIS on December 2022.

Somalia has been waging a multi-pronged campaign against Al-Shabaab since July this year when local militia, dubbed the Community Defence Forces, mounted attacks against elements of the militant group in central regions.

  • The government announced in November that it had shut down 13 bank accounts thought to be affiliated with al-Shabaab.
  • Additionally, the government is fronting ideological warfare led by former al-Shabaab number two Mukhtar Robow who is also the Minister for Religious Affairs.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told a gathering in Djibouti on 6 December that his government is winning the war against al-Shabaab, citing victories in central parts of the country.

That assessment may be a bit ambitious given the southern and southwestern parts of the country remain under al-Shabaab’s control.

Opening up new battlefronts in Jubaland and Southwest states, as the president indicated, will require more military strength and close collaboration with the clans in those regions.

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