How is the President’s Quest for the Lifting of the Arms Embargo Perceived in Somalia

On June 22, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud pleaded his government’s case for the United Nations to lift the arms embargo imposed on Somalia since 1992, at the height of the civil war. Like his other 36 trips abroad however, the president embarked on this quest without worrying about the public’s perception of it.

The brunt of the UN sanctions

Although the Somali nation loathes the UN sanctions, which it sees as an attack on its sovereignty, it is apprehensive about a potential complete lifting of arms restrictions as hotbeds of conflict spread.

Since the announcement of the President’s campaign for the lifting of these sanctions, which makes Somalia a country under quasi-UN occupation because of its submission to Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, public opinion wonders if this government, whose policies pit Somalis against each other and the country is awash of illegal weapons, is able of handling a flood of weapons.

That Somalia needs the lifting of these undue sanctions which force the army to fight with equal force against the nihilistic group whose resources are inexhaustible is a sine qua non. The lifting of the arms embargo, which has not ceased to be renewed since 1992, is therefore not only necessary but above all existential.

The previous government of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo secured a partial lifting of UN sanctions a few years ago and that little bit has been invaluable for state forces to gain the upper hand over nebulous forces in many areas.

Undermining the Army

However, President Hassan Sheikh does not inspire confidence in a Somali public tired of the killings of the last three decades. Already, in his election campaign he did not hesitate to assemble a clan militia to rebel against the previous government threatening to return the country to the civil war of the 1990s if the president did not vacate his post.

This escalation made it clear to many citizens that politicians like Hassan Sheikh represented a real danger in a country traumatized by civil war and the perpetual Al-Shabab insurgency. Unfortunately, he managed to obtain the supreme position thanks to a selection system that made the public spectators and foreign diplomats the kingmakers.

Since taking power, President Hassan Sheikh has taken many steps to divide the army into clans, weaken their esprit de corps and even disperse 5,000 strong thoroughly-trained soldiers sent to Eritrea by the previous government.

At the same time, he recruited young people within his clan and sent them for training in Egypt and Uganda and then confined them to tasks far from the front line against Al-Shabab. Finally, he did not hesitate to open the arms caches of the army and distribute them to militias of his own clan, destroying at the same time the arms management system of his predecessor.

Last, on his way out to New York, President Hassan Sheikh placed at the head of the army a member of his sub-clan who made his fortune when he was head of his presidential guard during his previous mandate.

A president in conflict with his people

The replacement of mild-mannered General Odowa, whose youthful approach inspired confidence with his professionalism and integrity, something very rare in present-day Somalia, shocked the nation. It must be said that the general was an outsider in the unscrupulous entourage of the president and a certain hurdle on the changes to come.

Hassan Sheikh’s trip and plea come at a time when the clan conflicts are ignited in many regions by his government’s divisive and misguided policies. First, he refuses to recognize the disastrous situation of Las Anod, supporting against all odds the secessionist forces of Somaliland because he wants to counterbalance the political weight of Puntland.

Second, the president also supports Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe”, the strong man of Jubaland, in his showdown with the Gedo population which refuses his illegal authority. Third, he gives free rein to elements of his clan within the army who seek to spread out over Lower Shabelle.

Fourth, Mohamud is behind the sacking of the Governor of Hiran, Ali Jeyte, who showed leadership by convincing farmers and herders to wage war on Al-Shabab eventually succeeding in clearing the militants from his region. Finally, he is also accused of arming and supporting clan militias in Puntland to foment trouble in Garowe.

With all these conflicts in his luggage, and Al-Shabab being one of the many challenges to Somalia, one wonders if the president is so incredulous as to believe that the UN Security Council would lift the arms embargo anytime soon?

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The president’s speech follows two days spent meeting with US officials at their offices. Meetings in which he seeks to get Americans to remove arms traffickers from their sanctions list, their support for the lifting of the embargo, military aid including the expansion of airstrikes on which he wants no limitation.

What is even more worrisome is his impatience and hyperactivity to lift the arms embargo while he is unable to unify and stabilize the country, respect the constitution and get the country out of the catastrophic economic situation.

This trip to New York to appear before diplomats at an ordinary session of the Security Council comes at a time when the United Emirates is chairing the Council. It goes without saying that it is this same country for hegemonic motives in Somalia that is behind the idea of this ill-advised trip by the Somali president.

It was incongruous to see a president pleading before a panel of diplomats for the lifting of UN sanctions. The irony is also that the president parades before the same foreigners who tailor-made the role he plays today. it is the newly-appointed British lady, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, whose briefing on “Somalia’s progress” gets the most attention from the panel.

Indeed, the emirates have started to recruit young Somalis carefully selected to serve as an auxiliary army in the pay of the Emirates in Somalia. The much-maligned deal passed by Somalia’s cabinet, though it is doubtful whether it will ever be approved by parliament, gives the emirates unrestricted access to state security in return for aid that many believe will go into the pockets of the president and his surroundings.

Reconciling with the Somali nation

All these reasons above mean that not only the federal administration headed by President Hassan Sheikh, a priori without popular legitimacy and with a dubious legal base, must reconcile with its population and this in several ways.

First, give up the pursuit of lifting the arms embargo and focus on social peace. Al-Shabab is a symptom of a disease that has plagued the country for three decades. These young people who kill in the name of a diffuse notion are the same young policemen and soldiers high on khat who shoot indiscriminately with no regard for life. Their leaders are the same who today are ministers.

Then, the president must respect the constitution and refrain from sabotaging national institutions like the parliament or the army. He should also refrain from putting himself in all the executive roles and delegate the work to the men and women who have the portfolio in question.

Finally, he must stop the waste of public funds with his permanent trips which do not bring in anything tangible and instead spend times mending fences in Somalia. This also means that he must stop the appointments and the distribution of contracts to his own family and cronies.

If these actions that damage Somalia’s reputation stop, the president would not have needed to stoop so low in New York and claim achievements that everyone knows is a lie. Respect is earned, not given.

Omar Salad

Omar is an IT specialist based in Mogadishu.