South Sudan and Somalia lobby for lifting of UN arms embargo

Sunday April 16 2023
Rebel troops of the SPLA-IO unload their weapons

A frequent relapse into violence coupled with inability to provide adequate security for civilians are combining to derail Somalia and South Sudan’s bids to have their respective arms embargoes dropped. PHOTO | ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN | AFP

By The EastAfrican

A frequent relapse into violence coupled with inability to provide adequate security for civilians are combining to derail Somalia and South Sudan’s bids to have their respective arms embargoes dropped.

For years, the UN Security Council has been running parallel regimes of sanctions on East Africa’s most troubled countries – Somalia, which has been struggling to defeat Al-Shabaab in the south of the country and South Sudan, which has been torn apart by various armed groups. For South Sudan, frequent clashes between splintered armed groups fuelled extension of an arms embargo last year.

Next month, the embargo on South Sudan will be up for review again, and Juba, just like Mogadishu, hopes to have the ban lifted.

Juba is choosing to lobby behind the scenes to members of the UN Security Council while Somalia is publicly calling for the lifting.

Last week, the African Union Peace and Security Council said the UN should have considered Somalia’s “repeated request” to be freed from the ban. The council, which deals with Africa’s security threats, said Somalia’s embargo should be lifted “to ensure that the country is sufficiently equipped to effectively address the security threats posed by Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups active in Somalia, as it prepares to take over security responsibilities from Atmis at the end of the transition by 31 December 2024.”

Atmis, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, has a two-year draw-down programme to hand over security duties to Somalia’s security forces.


But Somalia has had an arms embargo on its neck for the last 30 years.

Originally imposed to prevent flow of weapons to warlords, it has been updated variously through other resolutions of the UN Security Council to target the Al-Shabaab threat and the risk of weapons falling into any other hands.

Need for equipping

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud this past week reiterated that the ban is outdated after he hosted a delegation from the UN led by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“The rationale for the original arms embargo as it was in 1992 does not server the purpose today,” said the Somali President on Tuesday in Mogadishu.

“The current offensive on al-Shabaab and the drawdown of Atmis calls for sufficient equipping of the Somali security forces,” he added, asking the UN chief to use his “good offices” to prevail upon the Security Council’s 15 members. Guterres was non-committal, however, promising to discuss the issue with the Council.

Last November, the UN Security Council voted 11 to four abstentions to extend the ban by a year, but adjusting the original total ban to now target armed non-state actors opposed to the government.

Taking necessary steps

The Council said it was taking necessary steps “to prevent all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Somalia, including prohibiting the financing of all acquisitions and deliveries of weapons and military equipment and the direct or indirect supply of technical advice, financial and other assistance, and training related to military activities, except where the beneficiary is Somalia’s security and police institutions at the national and local level.”

But Somalia has argued the Resolution prevents it from freely hunting for proper weapons on the market.

“The Federal Government strongly believes that due to the success of efforts to strengthen its capacity and capabilities on Weapons and Ammunition Management (WAM) in recent years, the necessary progress is being made to realise the total lifting of the partial arms embargo,” Ahmed Moalim, Somalia’s Interior Minister told The EastAfrican last week.

Most notably, the federal government says it has put in place several significant policies, procedures and frameworks to effectively manage the Somali Security Forces’ weapons and ammunitions.

Somalia’s lobbying has mimicked that of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which until last December was under an arms embargo. When the ban was lifted last year, Kenya, which was then a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, said this would guarantee further protection of civilians.

The council, however, sustained the ban on armed groups in the DRC and indicated there was a need to demobilise many of the roaming armed groups.

Juba case

In South Sudan, similar armed groups and lack of coherent national security control have fuelled the embargo.

But African members of the UN Security Council have questioned the effectiveness of the arms embargo, travel bans and financial measures on South Sudan. The council, nonetheless, voted 10 to five abstentions to extend the ban until May 31 this year, with all UN member states directed to prevent “the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms to the territory of South Sudan.”

At the time, African countries including Kenya, Gabon and Ghana said the ban had not provided for capacity building of South Sudan’s security forces, continuing their inability to protect civilians.

To remove sanctions, however, Juba and Mogadishu may need to do more than just publicly criticise the bans.

Seeking support from Horn

Since last year, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been seeking support from all countries in the Horn. He has won over most of them. Kenya, which had voted for all the UN resolutions extending the ban arguing it needed complete crackdown on al-Shabaab, has since vouched for Somalia to be re-equipped. Incidentally, Kenya had been supporting Kinshasa and Juba’s bids to have the embargoes lifted.

In February this year, Somalia’s neighbours approved Mogadishu’s request for an all-out war – including its need for lethal weapons and coordinated support to – annihilate Al-Shabaab militants.

For South Sudan its internal troubles are an immediate barrier. This is besides Juba lobbying some non-permanent members such as Japan, Ghana, Mozambique, the United Arab Emirates, and Malta, as well as Russia and China, to allow the country to buy modern arms to deal with the internal security situation.

The UN, however, has cited continual communal and cattle-related violence in the country, violation of human rights, atrocities and delayed implementation of the 2018 peace deal that should have professionalised the security forces.

Internally, the government factions also can’t agree.


Lam Jok Lock, an ally of Dr Riek Machar, the first vice-president, says lifting sanctions now can be dangerous as the South Sudan army has not been trained and deployed according to the peace agreement.

Besides, he argued there is no proper command structure to manage the troops, which may lead to another splintering.

“If weapons are given, who will they be given to? Probably the same militias who were responsible for the 2013 Juba massacre?” he posed referring to how the war broke out in Africa’s youngest nation in December 2013,” said Lock.

Like the DRC, South Sudan has the burden of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of fighters into one army. It also has to implement the Joint Action Plan for the Armed Forces to address conflict-related sexual violence.

Sympathetic to South Sudan

So far, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the AU Peace and Security Council have been sympathetic to South Sudan regarding the lifting of the embargo.

And some South Sudanese like Akol Miyen Kuol, a commentator, believe the UN has denied them a sovereign right. He, however, says the disarmament programme in the country can still be done peacefully through dialogue, encouraging voluntary surrender.