Experts raise questions on validity of sanctions on Somalia
The resurgence of terror attacks in Somalia and neighboring Kenya is raising a new debate on whether the UN arms embargo on Somalia has fully worked at all.
One assessment by a Nairobi-based peace and justice lobby organization known as the International Policy Group says al-Shabaab has been launching at least three attacks per week since January, with deadly repercussions.
The Al-Qaeda-linked extremists have attacked police stations in Kenya, killed soldiers and arrested suspects, destroyed communication masts in both countries and targeted government officials in Somalia.
On one recent assault, they launched mortars on a compound that houses African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), targeted EU diplomats and attempted a raid on a US training military base.
And for a group targeted by the African Union [AU] Mission in Somalia [AMISOM] Forces and fingered globally under a category of sanctions, the apparent revival has been baffling policy experts.
“because of sanctions on Somalia, it is difficult to defeat al-Shabaab,” observed Abdiwahab Abdisamad, a lead consultant at SouthLink Consultants, a policy group in Nairobi that researches on Horn of Africa political scene.
“It is forbidden to deliver or finance weapons purchase for the Somali National Army. But who is feeding al-Shabaab? They are collecting illegal taxes, forcibly from telecom companies, local businesses, herders, wealthy individuals, and even politicians. They are thriving under sanctions.”
Last week, illegal conflict financing watchdog The Sentry released a report that suggested sanctions imposed on various countries in Africa may or may not have worked right mostly because they were poorly implemented or targeted wrong groups.
As a tradition since the 1930s, the international community has used sanctions as a coercive tool to address security threats and force errant groups to tore the line.
In Africa, the UN, the US, and the European Union have, separately, imposed about two dozen sanctions on 11 different countries which include Somalia, Burundi, Sudan and South Sudan in the eastern Africa region. They target officials, warlords, companies and other entities.
In January 1992, barely two years after the civil war broke out, the UN Security Council imposed an open-ended arms embargo on Somalia. In February 2007 the embargo was amended to allow arms supplies to Somali Government Forces.
The move was aimed to cut the flow of weapons to feuding clan warlords, who a year earlier had ousted military regime led by former President General Mohamed Siad Barre.
Under various resolutions of the UN, and Executive Orders of the US President; it is forbidden to finance activities of al-Shabaab, aid their purchase or acquisition of military equipment as well as allow them to travel through or own assets in member states of the UN.
In November 2018 the arms embargo was extended until 15 November 2019.
One of the stringent conditions imposed includes barring financial institutions from aiding transactions in support of terrorists. But the Sentry said Africa’s huge unbanked population makes it difficult to achieve the goal, instead, it is the general population who may suffer.
“In some African countries with strong informal economies, the majority of the population remains unbanked; in these situations, it is generally elites who have bank accounts,” the report titled ‘Beyond Carrots, Better Sticks’ noted.
The Sentry did not analyze the specific situation in Somalia, as it focused on Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, Liberia, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Liberia, and the Central Africa Republic. However, it did note that sanctions on Somalia scared away financial investors who wanted to avoid being caught in the middle; a phenomenon known as de-risking.
“At its most extreme, de-risking can cause humanitarian crises. Humanitarian organizations rely on the international financial system, and without access to this system at the local level, it can be very difficult to distribute aid.
“This happened in Somalia, a country that has suffered from dramatic de-risking. Even remittance companies struggle to send money there, leading many to take extraordinary risks and carry cash around the world to get money to its intended recipients.”
Yet diplomats at the United Nations Security Council, which fist imposed the sanctions, have been scratching their heads as well. On October 25, the Current Chair of the Committee on Sanctions on Somalia admitted there has to be a review.
Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, the Belgian Permanent Representative to the UN argues al-Shabaab has managed to adapt to sanction conditions and was now sourcing revenues locally and making local weapons.
“There is now confirmation that Al-Shabaab is manufacturing home-made explosives, expanding its revenue base, and was once again responsible for the highest number of attacks against civilians in the region,” he said to the Council last week.
“The embargo — first imposed in 1992 — must be streamlined, simplified and updated to better reflect the current realities of the counter-insurgency in Somalia.”
The sanctions have traditionally included an arms embargo, financing barriers, asset freeze and, charcoal trade ban and a travel ban. But it excludes humanitarian aid to areas controlled by Shabaab’s and is not specific on the importation of usually harmless material but which may be used to make explosives for example.
“It is clear that Al-Shabaab no longer derives significant revenue from that trade (of charcoal.”
In a recent situational report, the UN Global Maritime Crime Programme, part of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime did admit porous borders between Kenya and Somalia make it difficult to tame illegal charcoal trade.
But some members of the UN Security Council think Somalia itself has stalled on the usefulness of sanctions. Jonathan Guy Allen, a representative of the UK in the Council accused the Federal Government of refusing to cooperate with Panel on Somalia, in determining whether the government can be let off the arms embargo.
It would be unacceptable, he argued, for Somalia to refuse to work with the Panel while at the same time seek to be let off.
Germany, US, France, and Kuwait; all members of the Security Council, said Somalia must tame infiltration of terror merchants in government departments and should work with the Panel to ensure no weapons in the hands of Somali security forces are sneaked out to al-Shabaab.