Somalia: Lifting the Arms Embargo Spells New Catastrophe for Somalia
Somalia needs a major disarmament and demobilization plan, but instead the country’s new president is asking for more weapons.
Debate over lifting of the 1992 U.N. Security Council arms embargo on Somalia has been revived with intensity by the country’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, with a somewhat reluctant voice of support from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. On Feb. 5, 2013, Reuters newswire wrote: ” Several diplomats noted that Ban’s recommendation to end the embargo was so weakly worded it was barely a recommendation at all. The wording was: “…the Security Council may wish to consider the repeated request by the (Somali) government for lifting the arms embargo.”
Somalia is awash with all types and sizes of weapons, with the vast majority of weapons in public hands. Somalia needs a major disarmament and demobilization plan, but instead the country’s new president is asking for more weapons for the so-called ‘Somali National Forces’ – a shameful umbrella name used by the Somali Federal Government (FG) whilst the fully cognizant that the composition of SNF troops is dominated (approximately 85%) by a single clan in Somalia, to which President Hassan belongs.
One wonders, is President Hassan so obsessively determined provide arms to his clansmen in Mogadishu, or does the new president genuinely believe, that the perpetual crises in Somalia can be resolved with more weapons? Moreover, is the international community so cunningly misled as to believe that SNF troops are representative of all Somali communities, has gained national trust and can therefore be deployed in all regions of Somalia outside of the Mogadishu area?
Rebuilding a new Somalia – the Federal Republic of Somalia – requires a step-by-step comprehensive approach that takes into thoughtful consideration socio-political, economic and military realities in post-1991 Somalia, a period of national disintegration. The rebuilding of SNF troops, therefore, must be preceded by a planned course of action, a genuine reconciliation process, necessary legislation, and a phased re-integration process for Somali armed groups currently present in different parts of the country. This process requires time and resources, and cannot be rushed in the interest of short-term gains that could prove devastatingly catastrophic for Somali and international efforts to stabilize the war-torn country.
One also worries about President Hassan’s policies, as voiced by himself or members of the new Cabinet. Most recently, the president suggested that the new Somali Federal Constitution “permits the merger of two or more regions, but it does not permit the merger of two or more clans”.
Taken at face value, this statement appears to be normal, as the Somali people are tired of clan politics. However, the president commits a cardinal sin against Somali territorial and political realities and he misreads the Somali Federal Constitution.
Somalia is a large country that is home to multiple communities that proudly share the Islamic religion, the Somali language and a cultural heritage. At the same time, the Somali people enjoy a sub-cultural diversity and a parallel history in the various regions of the country. For example, when the European colonizers arrived on Somalia’s shores centuries ago, community-based administrations existed in some parts of the country, while other parts of the country did not have unified administrative structures. This socio-political diversity both historically and presently, coupled with the country’s rich sub-cultural diversity, certify that Somalia is a not a monolithic country whereby the country’s national government or the international community can apply a single policy throughout with disregard to existing diversity, and expect the same results in every region of Somalia.
Additionally, President Hassan seems to ignore, intentionally or unintentionally, the concept of deegaan – or community lands. The demographics of each deegaan in Somalia is predominantly home to a particular clan-group, but an assortment of other clans live among each dominant clan-group in each deegaan of Somalia. How much the smaller clans enjoy their rights differs among the deegaano. But since 1991, some armed clans have forcefully taken the deegaano of other clans and have shifted the demographics, particularly in Banadir, Galgadud, Lower Jubba, Sool, and Lower Shabelle regions. Now, the armed clans want their representatives to be reflected in the emerging state formations – and thereby to completely disregard the deegaano, violate the known demographics of Somalia and establish themselves as victors of the Somali civil war by seizing new community lands. This great injustice, combined with a possible lift of the arms embargo, provide the platform of growing public discontent and potentially re-ignite clan conflicts that put in jeopardy the Somali Federal Government itself, that exists on the shoulders of African troops (AMISOM), funded by the West.
Certainly, as the the Somali Federal Constitution allows the merger of two or regions to form a state, one expects each deegaan’s clan composition to be evident in the clan composition of state formation process. Examples can be sought in the formation process for Somaliland and Puntland administrations, in northern Somalia. In the future when the Somali federation if complete and democratic elections come, this system will undergo a transformation over a period of time to reflect new realities in a democratic society, but at this period of time, wisdom dictates that one respects the existence of deegaano and the various communities’ ownership over deegaano, as a matter of advancing national reconciliation in Somalia.
President Hassan seems to also have misread the U.S. Government’s announcement of recognizing the first Somali government since 1991. President Hassan toured the West, and some say was ‘paraded’ by the West, and visited Washington, D.C., Brussels, and London. Indeed, as the world witnessed with horror the violence in Syria, the regime change in Libya and its after-effects on Mali and stability in West Africa, and the endless political crises in Egypt, Somalia was an example to be touted by the West as a ‘success model’ – that, a country suffering over 20 years of lawlessness and national disintegration, is drafting its constitution, electing new leaders and improving security. This is sold internationally as a ‘victory’ of the West’s counter -terrorism policy in Africa, and particularly in a Muslim country like Somalia. And for the moment to coincide with Secretary Clinton’s graceful exit, and credit for newly reelected President Obama’s foreign policy, indicates that it was an opportune moment to silence critics of President Obama’s foreign policy.
While all of this is good for President Obama, it is President Hassan that has to deal with the implications of U.S. recognition and to pursue the benefits of this new recognition. In some corners, there were prematurely loud celebrations that the “dual track policy” has come to an end. But as the saying goes, still waters run deep.
It was Puntland government that understood the shifting dynamics in Somalia and the implications of the country’s revival among the community of nations. Puntland’s leaders welcomed the U.S. recognition as a ‘benefit for all Somalia’ while the Somaliland authorities said the recognition ‘does not concern Somaliland’. For the secessionist movement isolated in Hargeisa, the devastating blow came when the U.K. Foreign Office issued an alert of a ‘specific threat’ against British and Western nationals in Somaliland and urging all British nationals to leave Somaliland. This blow to Somaliland’s image of security did not come without a valid reason. It has been, for quite some time, that senior political officials in Somaliland are secretly linked to Al Shabaab terrorist group and in late 2012, Somaliland’s interior minister announced a ‘general amnesty’ for all Al Shabaab combatants who hail from native clans in Somaliland. The interior minister did not provide any exclusions, which by definition means that Somaliland authorities have accepted the return of Al Shabaab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, who hails from Somaliland, without facing justice for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Somalia and other countries, including for bombings in Kenya and Uganda.
Clan competition fueled Somalia’s long civil war and even phenomena like Al Shabaab terrorist group is deeply linked to ever-shifting clan politics, as clan competition is the underlying cause of Somalia’s major problems. In this fast shifting dynamics, and with new international players such as Turkey and Iran delving their hands into Somalia, the country is under threat of a new implosion with devastating consequences for all the progress achieved since the Transitional Federal Government was established in 2004.
Removing the UN arms embargo at this point in time would inflate an extremely flammable situation in Somalia and potentially worsen a protracted conflict.