UN Security Council lifts arms embargo on Somalia for war on Al Shabab

The embargo was first imposed in 1992 to cut the flow of weapons to feuding warlords

The Somali Armed Forces. The country's president has vowed to eliminate the Al Shabab by the end of his second term in 2024. AP Photo
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The UN has lifted an arms embargo on Somalia after 32 years, supposedly to allow its western-backed government to re-equip and modernise its armed forces to eliminate the Al Shabab terrorist group.

The group is Al Qaeda’s wealthiest affiliate.

Last Friday’s decision by the UN Security Council was welcomed by the Somali government’s key allies, Britain and the US, but has also alarmed critics who fear it could see a new influx of modern weaponry into an area already awash with conflicts and illicit arms.

The embargo on Somalia was first imposed in 1992 to cut the flow of weapons to feuding warlords, who had removed Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the Horn of Africa country into civil war.

In 2006, Al Shabab aimed to establish its own rule and conducted attacks in neighbouring Kenya, including an attack in 2013 on the Westgate shopping centre which killed 68 people.

At the same time as lifting the embargo on arms deliveries to the government, the 15-member body adopted a second British-drafted resolution reimposing a total arms ban on Al Shabab which still controls swathes of the country and levies taxes on local people.

Both resolutions won with 14 votes. France abstained.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said the lifting of the embargo would allow the government to import much-needed sophisticated weaponry to defend the country and defeat the terrorists once and for all.

“Today, I wish to tell the Somali public that the arms embargo has been lifted from our country. From today, depending on our ability, we are free to buy any weapons we want from the world,” President Mohamud said.

There was mixed reaction from ordinary people and government officials across Somalia. Many welcomed the decision, but some dissenting voices think Somalia is not ready to manage more weapons.

Sahal Bare, a resident of the port city of Kismayo said he doubted the government’s capacity to control arms.

“I am worried now that the arms embargo has been lifted heavy weapons might fall into the wrong hands of tribal militias and Al-Shabaab. The government must keep records and tighten arms control,” he told The National.

Mohamed Harun, a member of parliament, warned of potential dangers.

“I am worried that yes we will defeat Al Shabab but what will happen to the weapons afterwards, how can we be safe from those weapons,” he quipped.

He said the decision to lift the arms embargo was a recognition of his government’s commitment to respecting international law and adopting policies to control the use and trade of weapons. Al Shabab fighters often overrun remote Somali army bases and make off with weapons and other equipment.

The President, who was elected in 2016, has vowed to have eliminated the terrorist group by the end of his second term in 2024 – the same date by which an 18,500-strong African Union peacekeeping force is also due to have left the country.

Updated: December 03, 2023, 8:13 AM