Somalia says it is banning the sale and carrying of weapons in the capital, Mogadishu, the latest move to secure the city that has witnessed deadly attacks in the past. Mohamed Tulah, Mogadishu’s Deputy Mayor, who is also in charge of the city’s security, made the announcement and warned arms dealers of “severe punishment”.
Tulah spoke about a recent operation in which the security agencies seized a cache of weapons in the city’s Wadajir district. The move by the government is a significant step towards improving the security of a capital city devastated by clan and religion-inspired clashes in the last three decades. However, this is not an easy task and every time the government tried to disarm its civilians, it failed. The government has banned weapons sales on several occasions, but the trade is still taking place secretly across the city.
When Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, partially controlled Mogadishu before it was forced out by Somali forces backed by African Union troops in 2011, weapons were sold in the open air at the Bakara – Somalia’s largest market. After Al-Shabaab’s exit, the government banned the sale of weapons at the Bakara but the business still goes on secretly. Most traders relocated to other areas and businesses are still thriving despite the ban, transactions taking place from the back of vehicles in the streets and from caches hidden in private homes.
Twenty-seven years of civil war has left the country awash with weapons of all types and the spread of radical groups like Al-Shabaab and ISIS. There are several places within the city where these weapons are sold. This speaks volumes about the state of security in Mogadishu, one of the world’s most dangerous places.
“Some people – mostly those running businesses - acquire guns for defensive purposes and to protect their property, as there is no effective police that could guarantee law and order,” said Abdilatif Adan, a communications and security analyst.
Criminal acts are rife and there are always reports of “unknown gunmen” shooting dead a government official, a clan elder or an ordinary citizen. Al-Shabaab takes credit for most of the killings but there are times when killings take place because of vendettas or business rivalry.
In 1992, the United Nations imposed an arms embargo after the country plunged into civil war, and in 2013, it partially lifted the embargo. Then the government imported a significant number of weapons it said its soldiers needed in the fight against Al-Shabaab militants. But soon, some of these weapons found their way onto Mogadishu’s black market where they were sold to arms dealers.
Somalia’s army is one of the most undisciplined in the world and on so many occasions its members have been accused of selling weapons to Al-Shabaab fighters with whom they are technically at war. The Somali army is also poorly paid and this could force them to sell their weapons to feed their families.
The estimated number of guns in the hands of civilians in Somalia as of 2017 is 1,145,000, according to Gun Policy, an organisation that tracks armed violence, firearms law and gun control.
The proliferation of firearms is a threat to the already fragile security situation in Mogadishu and across the country and their easy accessibility will continue to fuel the violence.