On Friday, December 1st, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted to lift the arms embargo on Somalia, a significant move ending a restriction that had been in place for over three decades. This historic decision marks a turning point for Somalia, which has been grappling with internal conflict and the threat of terrorism.
The arms embargo, first imposed in 1992, was aimed at curtailing the flow of arms to feuding warlords, who had plunged Somalia into a devastating civil war following the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Over the years, the embargo evolved to support the Federal Government of Somalia while preventing arms from reaching non-state actors, including the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group.
The UNSC adopted two British-drafted resolutions – one to remove the full arms embargo on Somalia’s government and another to reimpose an arms embargo on al-Shabab. This nuanced approach reflects the council’s intent to support the Somali government’s efforts to stabilize the country while continuing to restrict the flow of arms to terrorist groups.
The lifting of the embargo is a response to the Somali government’s long-standing request for greater autonomy in strengthening its security forces. The government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has been actively combating al-Shabab and other insurgent groups. The UNSC’s decision is seen as an acknowledgment of the progress made by the Somali government in recent years.
Despite the lifting of the embargo, concerns remain about the safe storage and management of ammunition in Somalia. The resolutions encourage the construction and refurbishment of safe ammunition depots across the country and urge international assistance in this regard.
Al-Shabab continues to pose a significant security threat in Somalia, waging a brutal insurgency to establish its rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. The group has been responsible for numerous attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries. The Somali government’s goal to expel al-Shabab within a year aligns with the deadline for the withdrawal of the remaining African Union peacekeepers by December 2024.
The UNSC’s decision to lift the arms embargo is a crucial step in enabling the Somali government to bolster its military capabilities. It represents a shift in the international community’s approach to Somalia, balancing the need to support the government’s efforts against terrorism with the imperative of preventing arms proliferation to non-state actors.