Mogadishu — The arms embargo imposed on Somalia stifles government efforts to rebuild the country's armed forces and bolster gains made against al-Shabaab, Somali security analysts and military experts say.
"The UN-imposed ban on importing weapons into Somalia prevents the government from obtaining state-of-the-art weapons to strengthen the national army, which suffers from a shortage in the military equipment it needs," said Mohamed Farah, a retired Somali army officer.
There is an urgent need to arm the national army so that it is able to shoulder its security responsibilities instead of relying on foreign forces, such as the African Union Mission in Somalia, he said. "[In the long-term] only the national army will be able to deal with the security situation in the country [but only] if it is properly armed," Farah told Sabahi.
The Somali government has intensified its efforts in recent months to push the international community to lift the weapons ban that has been imposed on Somalia since 1992.
In October 2012, the African Union called on the UN Security Council to review the arms embargo imposed on Somalia.
In a speech delivered at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 27th, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud underscored the importance of lifting the embargo.
"Somalia has come a long way and now needs the world's support," he said. "We ask that the arms embargo be lifted so that we can rebuild our national forces and protect the sovereignty of our country," he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon subsequently presented a proposal to the Security Council on February 1st.
"Enhanced efforts are ... urgently needed to develop the Somali National Security Forces," Ban said in the report. "In this regard, the Security Council may wish to consider the repeated request by the government for lifting the arms embargo."
In a statement released by his office on February 6th, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon welcomed Ban's statement.
"Today Somalia is in a stronger position than it has been in over 20 years and the whole world recognises this," Shirdon said. "We still have a long way to go and I take note that the report contains some serious findings, which we will be studying carefully."
On Thursday (February 14th), Somali Foreign Affairs Minister Fowsiyo Yusuf Hajji Aadan addressed the council, again requesting that the ban be lifted to allow Somali armed forces to fight al-Shabaab. "Getting rid of the remnants of al-Shabaab is a top priority for us," she said.
"Somalia has emerged from the transitional period and become a sovereign country, but it needs to arm its troops in order to be able to protect its sovereignty," said retired Colonel Hassan Rage, who served in the Somali National Army under the Mohamed Siad Barre regime. The current situation is a great opportunity the Somali government must seize to succeed, he said.
Ensuring weapons do not fall into wrong hands
Omar Dahir, who heads the Mogadishu-based Centre for Moderation and Dialogue, said the Somali government needs to purchase weapons to win its fight against al-Shabaab, but it also needs to demonstrate that it can properly monitor the weapons.
"The new government has to give the international community guarantees that the weapons will not fall into the hands of terrorist groups in the event that the embargo is lifted," he told Sabahi.
"The international community has to know that the Somali army is fighting an enemy that possesses a weapon that might be stronger than what they have," he said. "For this reason, it is not possible to defeat this enemy unless the army is equipped with heavy weapons such as tanks, armoured vehicles and other such military equipment. This will not occur in light of the imposed arms embargo."
The Somali government has not yet announced any specific plan or mechanisms it would use to secure and control the influx of new arms if the embargo were to be lifted.