UN Concerns About Somalia Weapons Purchases as Bomb Explodes in Capital

Yesterday, six people were killed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu after a car bomb exploded.  Three Somali soldiers were killed in the attack.  The attack, near the city’s airport, appeared to target a United Nations convoy. The militant group Al Shabaab, linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

The bomb came as Reuters reported that it had obtained a confidential UN report regarding diversion of arms from official purchases by Somalia’s central government.  The report comes after the decision was made to ease the arms embargo against the country last March, in an attempt to improve its ability to fight Al Shabaab.

However, the report suggests that some of the arms shipments were diverted to various militias, including those aligned with Al Shabaab.  This serves to reinforce existing concerns about the strength of the central government in Somalia’s complex, clan-based social structure.

For instance, while some diversions could be traced to Al Shabaab-linked militias, the reason behind the diversions seemed to be more linked to clan loyalties.  The report mentioned the planning of arms deliveries to “Al Shabaab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse,” who is a member of the Abgaal clan.  Somalia’s current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is also a member of the Abgaal clan, as are many of his advisors.

President Mohamud had called on the UN to extend the easing of restrictions just last month.  According to Reuters, the new UN report recommends either restoring the full embargo or otherwise improving mechanisms to track arms shipments.

It is quite possible that President Mohamud could have been attempting to sway Sheikh Isse to switch sides with the deliveries.  Somalia’s central government relies heavily on warlords only nominally under its control to provide security in much of the country.  Other countries, like Kenya and the United States, have also been reportedly supporting such groups in an attempt to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold there.

These parallel forces remain a significant impediment to the credibility of the central government, but are also critical in many ways to the providing of basic security in many places.  UN operations in the country in the 1990s were plagued by the same problems, as the UN struggled to find ways to disarm and demobilize militias, while at the same time finding it necessary to work with them to protect the distribution of vital humanitarian aid.  Finding a lasting solution to this ongoing problem will likely be critical to the establishment of a functional Somali state.

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