Dehai News The Lifting Of The Arms Embargo On Somalia – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Tuesday, 05 December 2023


The Somali State is a construct of the Somali people who have lived in this important and prominent part of the African continent for thousands of years and from which they spread to other parts and still continue to do so to this day. This peninsula was not as parched as it looks today. It was a leopard-colored landscape of patches of forests, savannah and mountains bounded by a long coast from Bab El Mandab to the River Tana Estuary in Kenya. Europeans have reshaped it in their own fashion towards the end of the nineteenth century to create the current construct, although Somalis corrected it partially when the Ex-British Somaliland Protectorate and the Italian administered UN Trust Territory of Somalia got their independence and united to create the present Somali state in 1960. This is what the world today knows as the Somali state, but Somalis have a different definition of the Somali state for in their mindset, the Somali state still consists of the country of Djibouti, the eastern third of Ethiopia and the northern third of present-day Kenya. This is the root cause of the Somali problem, as is regularly in the news today and what actually led to the collapse of the Somali state.

The Somali State that was born in 1960 was, indeed, endowed with all the atouts to be a successful nation. Its geostrategic location, its open and beautiful beaches, the longest in the continent, its mainly one ethnic population, one language and one religion, its vast agricultural base, its maritime space rich with seafood, fish and minerals and, indeed, potentially a maritime power, its sub-soil minerals including oil and gas and its historical relations with the outside world including Asia and Europe, and East Africa, could have made the Somali state a power to reckon with in the region and Africa. But this was not to be so. 

The Somali State and the countries created by the colonial powers of Europe in the region could have taken a different path of working together and trading with each other and remaining linked together as they were over millennia before, but politics, the divide and rule of Europe, and the politics of keep them distracted and busy on themselves through unwarranted nationalisms, kept the region warring, using the its meager resources on weaponry and related accessories both material and human. This still continues and most of the nations of the region spend a large part of their budgets on militarism, designed for keeping the populations destitute and deprived, but full of “national pride.”

It was not only the Somali State that erred but also Ethiopia, the largest of the region, which missed so many opportunities of calming the region and kept the grandeur of an old feudal empire and created a fake narrative, adopting the history of all black people from Egypt southwards as “Ethiopia” removing its traditional name of “Abyssinia”, and the power, therefore, behind which all the others in the region had to file. 

The situation was further complicated by the continuing presence of colonial Europeans in the vicinity, in Kenya and Djibouti, and which hence encouraged the mistrust between the Ethiopian state and the Somali state. The cold war between the Ex-Soviet Bloc and the West added a more bitter flavor to the mix with Somalia becoming a satellite of the former and Ethiopia of the latter until they switched sides in the mid-seventies of the last century. Wars were thus inevitable, and they did happen, which led to the collapse of the Somali state and a breakup of Ethiopia into the two states of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

History does not stop its march and the Republic of Djibouti was also born out of this violent competition between the Somali and Ethiopian states of the region. The French could not stay any longer and left, although they kept their military/naval presence through a long-term contract with the Djibouti state. Kenya also obtained its independence earlier and the British, as usual and despite the wishes of the Somali people in Kenya, as declared in a referendum in 1963, overruled it and added the Somali state in the Kenya colony to the new Kenya state.

Of all the countries of the region, only the Somali state collapsed or was collapsed! It was seen as the source of all the troubles of the region. The Somali state did not cultivate itself as a party worthy of trust in the West led by the United States of America, the remaining sole superpower, as the Ex-Soviet Union started to crumple in 1989. Oil was discovered in the Somali State then and interest in the region was raised, but neither the Somali population nor the state were ready at the time for what probably the West wanted.

A general uprising of the population against the government was triggered and the strong Somali National Army was broken down into clan soldiers and hence dispersed. The Army that was built for over twenty years, as the strongest Sub-Saharan African army except perhaps South Africa’s, disappeared. Clan militias and terror groups replaced it, and the country went into a period of no state authority. It was probably a design, for the world, which could have fixed the problem with ease, using the international mechanisms in place for solving calamities of this nature, just would not. Cambodia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Sudan were all settled during this period.

New terror groups, mercenaries, the mafia and all kinds of evil forces suddenly appeared in the country. Its seas soon after became invested with piracy, which never happened in the region for a long time. There was probably some piracy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but they were mostly from the Arabian Gulf countries, but it did not affect much, as it was among themselves only.

One must, in this respect, note the significance of the region strategically. It is on the northwestern rim of the Indian Ocean and overlooks the sea route to and from Asia onto Europe, which carries a significant portion of global trade as it always did from prehistory to the present. The issue of piracy was, indeed, a ruse to bring in NATO naval forces into the Northern Indian Ocean and hence NATO presence in the Somali Peninsula. 

One should not thus ignore the happenings around the region. The Arabs are shifting to the East – to China and Russia and could not be trusted anymore. Perhaps the Somali State, which not only enjoys a geostrategic location but also more wealth than the Arabian peninsula in terms of oil and gas and other minerals including uranium, lithium, cobalt, copper, gold, and others, could easily replace the interest in the Arabian Gulf countries. Did this thought process lead to the lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia? Perhaps, but the French Republic was the only state that abstained from voting in favor of the lifting, marking the historical misunderstanding between the two countries. Note the French have been working on developing a navy for Ethiopia, which does not have access to any sea? Is the French state working with Ethiopia on a project that is not yet known? This smells of the old nineteenth century Europe and competition, thereof, for influence in the region. Nevertheless, it does appear that the Somali state is no longer alone. 

The Horn of Africa States, the SEED countries, namely Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, all own substantial wealth, in addition to a significant agricultural base and a massive blue economic potential, which would be beneficial for all parties that need to work with the region. This could be both the West and the East, for the region can work with both. One should never overlook the practicality of this, as clearly practiced in Djibouti today. Both the West and the East are present with their naval and military might in the country. Why should not the region be working together as a regional bloc and be able to negotiate collectively with both parties and be neutral as Switzerland is in Europe. The region is too weak and devasted from the wars of nearly half a century to be siding with any party and does not need to go into a new cycle of partisanship. They cannot afford this.

The region could have an economic relationship within itself and with the rest of the world on the basis of mutual respect. The world owes the region this much for the world has been part and parcel of the forces that disturbed the region, killing many its people either through wars, starvation and diseases, and migration.

The Horn of Africa States has been a trading region from prehistory to this date. They traded with ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and Rome and China and Persia and India and Indonesia and South Asia and many countries in Africa as far as Mozambique where they had trading posts and as far as North Africa, all the way to Morocco. Why should the region be limited in its relationships in this twenty-first century?

The lifting of the arms embargo from Somalia is momentous and significant in the recovery march of the country. It not only strengthens the country’s national forces but also sends a strong message to the enemies of the nation both from within and from without that the game has changed. The lifting of the arms embargo indicates that Somalia is no longer alone, and the world’s major powers are showing their confidence in the federal government of Somalia’s growing ability to manage its own security affairs. We should remember that the embargo has been in place since 1992, almost a third of a century during which the country was unable to raise its army and national security services, and indeed, raise its head up.

Somalia would, in the process, need to cooperate with its natural region, the Horn of Africa States and manage its relations with others. Its admission, as a new member, into the EAC only adds another unwarranted complexity to its relations. It is already a member of differing groupings with differing goals and objectives. It is hoped that the Somali parliament would not ratify the admission and keep the nation safe and sound for the time being.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at

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