Last week, a leaked UN report detailed a “systematic” proliferation of arms by the Somali government. However, the UN Security Council is expected to extend the easing of arms sanctions on the government.
This means the government of Somalia will be allowed to import light weapons to assist it with improving security across areas under its control. While this is not a bad thing in principle, it becomes more problematic once you have considered the bigger picture.
Somalia has no real military
Somalia’s current military was first reformed by the Transitional National Government (TNG) in the year 2000, and again from 2004 by the Transitional Federal Government. In the first instance, the TNG recruited freelance gunmen and members of Siyad Barre’s military. However, few of those went on to join the TFG military formed in Jowhar in 2004.
The first TFG military brigades were made up of the old Siyad Barre military, Puntland militias and clan militias from the Jowhar area; when the TFG moved to Baidoa in 2005, some clan militias from the Bay region joined the TFG military. In late 2006, Ethiopian troops took Mogadishu, and behind them came the TFG military.
From 2007, the ruthless militias that were led by Mogadishu’s warlords joined the TFG military and police. Some clan militias also joined, so as to protect their interests – this is a common practice of such militias across Somalia.
However, clans from central Somalia were largely unrepresented in the TFG military during the Ethiopian occupation because they had vested interests in the insurgency fighting the occupation. This changed when the Ethiopians withdrew in January 2009.
From January 2009, clan-based militias in the insurgency joined the TFG military, including a huge contingent led by a former Jubba Valley Alliance leader, Goobaale. These JVA fighters were from Galgadud in central Somalia, but had been stationed in Kismayo during the JVA days, and had fought in Mogadishu against other warlord militias in 2006; they later joined the reformed Islamic Courts Union in mid-2006. You have probably heard of the Somali army’s 3rd Brigade led by General Gobale: these are almost exclusively from Galgadud region and from one sub-clan in that region.
This meant that now the TFG military had a large representation of almost all major clans in southern Somalia. But that is exactly the problem: minority and large clans that were not well armed were less represented in the TFG military (in the beginning you had to bring your own gun to join the force, meaning that unarmed people remained exactly that). This void was filled by Al-Shabab, which took to arming and empowering clans that were ignored by the then-TFG.
Clan tensions started almost immediately after the TFG regained most of the Lower Shabelle region by the end of 2012. By mid-2013, there was an almost full blown war in Lower Shabelle region between the locals and the Somali army: the 3rd Brigade faced off with local clan fighters in and out of the Somali army, leading to the eventual withdrawal of said brigade from many parts of the region.
Middle Shabelle is no different: the Somali army there has been involved in battles against local Bantu gunmen from early 2013. Reports from that region detailed horrific atrocities committed by the army, although these cannot currently be confirmed. However, what can is that for most of 2013, travellers who didn’t want to get raped or robbed avoided the Somali army in Middle Shabelle.
In today’s Somali army, clan loyalties trump national identity; without this being rectified by rehabilitating and decommissioning clan militias, continuing to arm the Somali army is akin to fuelling clan wars.
Military ranks given out for political reasons
Since the TNG days, the transitional governments of Somalia have given military honours to clan and warlord militia commanders simply to appease said groups. This has resulted in an army of semi-literate officers at every level: from the veteran warlord Indha Adde promoted to General from nothing by Sheikh Sharif in 2010, to former ICU foot soldiers promoted to Captains and Majors from 2009.
These untrained officers are “leading” Somalia’s military to defeat after defeat – it is still a fact that the Somali army cannot plan and successfully attack the remaining Al-Shabaab by itself. AMISOM has to lead and clear the way.
Moreover, these officers oversee perhaps one of the largest self-sabotage operations any military has done to itself in the recent past: the selling of weapons to arms traders who resell them to customers that include Al-Shabaab.
Government arms sold
The sad fact is that the Somali government is too weak and disorganised to manage and account for the weapons it already possesses, let alone future shipments of weapons.
Officially, the Somali government does not allow the buying and selling of weapons, but there is a sprawling black market for arms in Mogadishu. One can buy anything from pistols to machine guns and hand grenades in Mogadishu’s arms market. You can even have your newly acquired weapon tested – by none other than uniformed government police or army personnel; because they are the only ones allowed to carry arms and shoot in Mogadishu.
According to knowledgeable sources, heavy calibre guns such as the ZU-series anti-aircraft gun – provided by clan militias that have been armed by the government – are also available for buyers who can afford to pay up to a hundred thousand dollars.
Ironically, the government will register your weapon for you and allow you to maintain a small army – but as explained above, not allow you to legally purchase it. This fact only encourages the continuation of the arms black market.
Without stopping the continuation of arms sales by uniformed government troops, the Somali government should not be allowed to continue importing arms.
Most of all, there needs to be investment in the quality of the Somali army before continuing to pile arms into it. With an army that can barely fight on its own without heavy assistance from friendly foreign troops, the Somali government has more to worry about than where to buy cheap guns.
Mohamed Mubarak, a political and security analyst, is the founder of anti-corruption NGO Marqaati (Marqaati.org), based in Mogadishu @somalianalyst