Transitional Federal Government launched a security crackdown in
April to disarm Mogadishu, but efforts to confiscate weapons have
yet to bring peace or stability to the ravaged African nation.
Known as one of the most heavily armed cities in the world, Mogadishu
has seen sporadic violence erupt between Islamic militants and
government forces since the Islamic Courts Union was driven out
of power in December 2006.
years, weapons have been readily available throughout the city
thanks to a flourishing illegal arms market that thrived in spite
of a long-standing U.N. arms embargo.
"The problem was people could go and buy weapons at that
market and sell them to whomever -- anybody with money could buy
them," said Idd Mohamed, Somalia's deputy permanent representative
to the United Nations.
According to Mohamed, the fledgling national government, with
support from Ethiopian forces, is in the process of successfully
disarming the capital. He described a threefold approach comprising
tighter border security, confiscation drives and the closure of
Irtogte, Mogadishu's main arms market.
But David Shinn, an adjunct professor at George Washington University's
Elliot School of International Affairs and former U.S. ambassador
to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, called the TFG's plan a "fantasy."
He pointed to similar attempts -- and subsequent failures -- by
the United States in 1993.
"The US would block off the equivalent of a square block
to prevent anyone from coming or going, knock down doors and confiscate
a hundred or so weapons, but everyone knew that there were thousands
of weapons in that area alone," said Shinn, who coordinated
the State Department's Somalia policy during that intervention.
Mohamed contends the new government is using a combination of
methods, such as communication with traditional leaders to show
them the dangers of having weapons in the hands of civilians,
along with forcibly removing weapons.
Shinn said Somalis will find ways around these efforts.
"People wrap [weapons] in plastic bags and bury them in
the sand. The whole idea of disarming hand-carried weapons is
ridiculous," Shinn said.
Other analysts have said that the weapons program, combined with
other hard-line policies from Mogadishu, could end up alienating
the marginally supported government that relies on its Christian
neighbor Ethiopia to supply security in the Muslim nation.
"People are terrified, the police have been forcibly removing
the headscarves of women, checking to make sure they are not men
hiding," said Kenyan newspaper columnist Salim Lone, who
grew up in a predominantly Somali suburb of Nairobi and said he
often talks to displaced Somalis. "It's hard to meet a Somali
in favor of the government, not because they all support the Islamic
Courts, but because they're opposed to Ethiopia's presence."
A failed arms embargo
Following the collapse of Somalia's military government in 1992,
the UN Security Council passed resolutions banning arms sales
to the country and establishing a committee to monitor implementation
of the embargo.
Various state and independent actors have violated the weapons
prohibition, according to reports from the UN Monitoring Group
on Somalia. The latest dossier, released in November 2006, detailed
increasing activity "in terms of numbers of arms, frequency
of delivery and sophistication of weapons."
The UN accused Ethiopian rival Eritrea of landing a large shipment
of assault rifles and machine guns intercepted at the port of
El Ma'an that were destined for the Islamic Court Union.
Trucks of ammunition also were reported going from Ethiopia,
en route to Baidoa, and specifically contracted to deliver the
cargo to TFG President Yusuf.
While agreeing transgressions persist, many Somali watchers have
found faults with the UN report's claims, such as a link between
the ICU and Hezbollah, and its overall credibility.
"It didn't mention the US breaking the embargo, which everyone
knows has been and still is going on," said Lone, who served
as director of the UN news division for six years. "It referred
to all of these other armies coming into Somalia, but not a word
about the Ethiopian troops already there."
Complicating the issue of arms networks in the country, international
officials have accused Islamic militants there of collaborating
with global terrorist networks. In January, the United States
launched air strikes against al-Qaida operatives believed to be
escaping with the remnants of the ICU.
"We have Islamic fundamentalists who harbor international
terrorists," said UN representative Mohamed. Somalia was
used as a staging ground, Mohamed said, for terrorist attacks
against Kenya, including a 1998 bombing at the US Embassy in Nairobi.
Lone rejected the allegation that Somalis and the ICU are involved
with terrorists and said the group was able to "create a
relative environment of law and order" when it had control
of the capitol and the surrounding areas.
As the TFG struggles to exert control over the divided city, violence
has returned in force. John Holmes, the highest ranking UN official
to visit Somalia since the 1990s, reported that violence displaced
nearly 400,000 civilians, the majority of whom had yet to return
as of April. Those who remain lack shelter, food, clean water
and medical care, he said.
Forming political accord
Going forward, nearly all sides agree international support will
be needed to forge a political solution and establish an effective
"The issue here is of power sharing between the clans. Hawiye
-- Mogadishu's largest clan -- is divided, as it has been since
the early 1990s" said Brynjulf Mugaas, an independent consultant
to the TFG and a member of the Monitoring Group on Somalia from
2002 to 2003. "The clans need to feel secure and have a police
force that they can trust."
Shinn agreed. "If the clan leaders are brought into the government,
then they have a chance of succeeding," he said. "If
this is a temporary cease-fire, then this is just temporary."
And he said he is not optimistic the peace will last.
"There are just so many arms. There are enough arms to keep
the conflict going for another year or two," he said. "It
basically requires the will of participants and or of countries
to stop it, and the will is not there."
Mohamed wants the United Nations to provide an international peacekeeping
force, as it has done in Liberia, the Congo and the Ivory Coast,
to complement the African Union force, comprised primarily of
Ugandans, currently operating in Somalia.
"We have no strong local revenues to be used for security,"
Lone acceded the international community should lead the reconciliation
process but objected to the involvement of Ethiopia.
The issue is expected to arise at a national reconciliation conference
scheduled in Mogadishu for mid-June.