Mogadishu, Somalia – The car barely came to a stop when a hand softly knocked at the tinted passenger seat window. The window rolled down, revealing a tall, skinny figure wearing a half-buttoned, baggy polyester shirt, a red sarong, and pink sandals – and holding a rusty AK-47 in his left hand.
“Seven-hundred fifty dollars,” he said in a firm voice, barely making eye contact, before dropping the fully loaded gun onto this reporter’s lap. Another 10 men came rushing from nearby shops and sheds, each screaming out the price of the weapon they were trying to sell.
To the untrained eye, the scene may have looked like a kidnap-in-progress.
In fact, this is the traffic-congested, heavily potholed Zobe area of Mogadishu, a new arms market just a short walking distance from the offices of Somalia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Before the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab retreated from Mogadishu, weapons were sold in the open at Bakara Market, the city’s main business hub that was then under their control.
But a lot has changed since those days. The government, soon after taking control of Bakara Market, ordered weapon traders to cease selling their wares.
A lucrative business
Although the traders closed their shops, they haven’t disappeared completely. Instead, they have resurfaced in areas like Zobe. Despite having no shops to sell their wares from, business isn’t bad. In fact, it’s better now than before for those still selling guns to make a living.
Ahmed Ilka’ase – the man behind the car’s tinted window – has been an arms trader for the past 15 years. For him, the business has never been more lucrative. “There are only about 30 of us selling guns here. But in Bakara Market there were hundreds of us. Less sellers mean less competition and higher prices.”
The price of guns has more than doubled. Two years ago, a second-hand AK-47 used to cost $350. Now it costs $750. The price of bullets has also shot up. A single AK-47 bullet used to retail at $0.50, but now costs $1.
Ilka’ase said he makes at least $50 profit for each Ak-47 he sells – more than many earn in a month in Mogadishu. “I sell at least two guns a day, so on a quiet day I take home $100.”
Somalia’s more than 20 years of civil war has left the country awash in small arms. The exact number of firearms in the hands of civilians is unknown, although it is estimated that the figure is about 550,000 to 750,000 , and only about 14,000 of them are registered.
Between 2004 and 2011, the United Nations Monitoring Group reported almost 50,000 instances involving the transfer of small arms and light weapons in Somalia. To protect civilians and curb the flow of weapons to those involved in the Somali civil war, the UN imposed an arms embargo in 1992.
With support from its international partners, Somalia’s new internationally recognised government – in office since September 2012 – is tirelessly campaigning to have the embargo lifted.
But human rights groups are concerned that lifting the ban will exacerbate the conflict in the Horn of Africa nation.
“To lift the arms embargo would allow even more unregulated weapons into Somalia with no safeguards and no controls,” said Gemma Davies, Somalia researcher at Amnesty International. “We believe that the government still lacks the capacity to prevent the diversion of substantial quantities of its own weaponry and military equipment to other armed groups and to Somalia’s domestic arms market.”
The Somali government says they need weapons for their poorly equipped army, which continues to fight al-Shabab. They claim no government weapons will fall into to the hands of the wrong group: “After the ban is lifted and before we buy any weapons, we will put in place checks to prevent weapons going to anyone other than our soldiers. That’s number-one priority for our government, and we are already working on that,” said deputy defence minister Abdirahman Kulmiye Hirsi.
‘I pray God gets rid of them’
Not everyone in Zobe neighbourhood welcomes an illegal arms market in this busy commercial centre, but no one dares to say so in public. Most don’t want to speak about the new traders here, and those who do lower their voices to almost a whisper. Fartun Mohamed owns a popular ice cream shop a few metres away from where Ilka’ase and his business friends are standing. “They stand here all day selling bullets like it’s biscuits,” she said. “Sometimes shots go off, scaring our customers away. I pray God gets rid of them,” she added, while selling extra-sweet vanilla-flavoured ice cream to children in school uniforms.
In the course of 30 minutes three cars pull up. Two buy brand-new AK-47s and the remaining one buys a used Belgium-made pistol.
“I bought this pistol because I just came back from the Netherlands and don’t feel safe in Mogadishu. I also can’t afford having personal security guards,” said the bulky, bald man who bought the pistol, refusing to give his name.
The weapons traders want to see their trade licensed, not banned. “We will like our trade to be licensed, like they do in Yemen and America. We don’t think banning the sale of guns will make guns disappear from Somalia,” said Ahmed Noor, an older gun trader in Zobe.
But that’s not a view shared or entertained by the government. “No, that won’t happen. Our government policy is for arms not to be in civilian hands, and those selling guns to civilians are lawbreakers and will be dealt with. We won’t offer licenses to those breaking the law,” asserted Hirsi.
“Our biggest priority is to get those arms in civilian hands in government hands, and we have already started doing that in Hiiraan province with help from AMISOM [the African Union Mission in Somalia].”
Ilka’ase says he is in this trade purely for profit. “If I’m given another job that guarantees me at least $100 a day, I will consider it. But until then I will buy and sell guns.”
There is a potential profit margin in the fire arms market since the IC is determined on lifting the arms embargo. There are numerous Land-locked communities that will use the lack of state-apparatus and the corruption in muuqidshu to make this their Primary port for import.
$Billions to be earned.
LOL Buuxiye. The arms embargo lifting will actually seize the current arms dealing. Right now, from Zeylac to Raskamboni, citizens have guns in their home, and it is mainly because of lack of safety. This problem is even in Hargeysa, were citizens and the separatists security militia clash every now and then. The lifting of arms embargo will allow Somalia to create effective army that has commands structure, and is able to defend and patrol its offshore from illegal entering.
You are too funny…
What you described is called disarmament! and is the opposite of Lifting the Arms embargo. A civilized people usually disarm once their war campaign is finished. Somalis are a different variety of human beings.
Instead of disarming they want more weapons?
Somaliland is not concerned with the Muuqdishu politics our 18-May-1991 re-independence will never go away. 22-years have shown that the Re-independence of Somaliland-Republic is permanent with or without Recognition we only have LOYALTY to Somaliland-Republic.
If Abgaal can create an effective Army to rule over Muuqdishu then we wish them the best luck 🙂 We do not share land or borders with Hawiye besides Fiqishini in the Sool area. If Majeerteen can trust Abgaal who they massacred using 70,000 Ethiopians troops in muuqdishu while abdullahi Yusuf was head of Somalia then who am i to worry 🙂
Can i ask How many MJ troops does Hassan Mahamoud have in his intended 30,000 troops???
I see that you can't seem to differentiate civilians from authorities. It is the Government who is asking for weapons and means to create real effective army.
You said: ''If Abgaal can create an effective Army to rule over Muuqdishu then we wish them the best luck''…..
You see Buuxiye, unlike you separatists we the south aren't mentally sick as you separatists. We all see him as the President of Somalia, from Zeylac to Raskamboni. We don't care what tribe he is from unlike you mentally sick tribal separatists. And unlike you (calool kuqaadyaal) separatists, we the south don't hold grudges for each other, we've moved on and reconciled with each other. I've never seen more mentally sick tribal people than you separatists. And it is for that reason why the rest of the other tribes in north-west Somalia don't want to nothing to do with you. You will never ever ever prosper in your life like that. Watch my word.
Meant for Buxxiye*
Why are you pretending to be a Southern Somali? We know that you are a Dhuloz who wish to find reasons for bad mouthing to the Somalians. Be your own man!
LOL, what if I said walaahi I'm southern Somali? Would you still deny it it the same way you deny the reality on the ground in north-west somalia
Mark my word*
Somaliland-Republic's Sovereignty is non-Negotiable.
Recognition today or a 1000years from now Somaliland-republic's existence was determined 18-May-1991 and there is no force on earth that can change that date. The Majority within Somaliland-Republic have a democratic right. The territorial integrity of Somaliland-Republic is without dispute as such the question is not What it is merely when?
Muuqdishu claiming Somaliland-Republic territory will continue to make it even less legitimate in the eyes of the world and their own population. I doubt they will ever reach a level where they will be able to deliver any substantial services to their population in Muuqdishu let alone reach remote areas like Mudug or Bari. Muuqdishu's Road-Map government has enough internal enemies as such we will not have to worry about them.
Let Somalia resolve it's own issues and stand on it's own feet with Somali security forces 🙂
Everything else can wait, a man standing behind a Ugandan soldier sounds really stupid when he claims another territory.
LOOOOL @ ''Muuqdishu claiming Somaliland-Republic territory will continue to make it even less legitimate in the eyes of the world and their own population''…..Is like saying London claiming Wales is illegitimate. You see, you separatists consider a government a government only when The President is your tribe or the capital is your tribes city. Hahahahahaha, pathetic people you separatists.
Stop crying you tribal sick minded separatists. You still focus on tribal BS, no wonder why you guys are the most pathetic out of all Somalis.
I knew it all along but now also the rest of the world also knows where all these guns keep coming from and that is through our so called Somali brothers in the North.
But atleast Bosaso every now and then captures containers full of weapons, when do you ever see that in berbera?
Love, there is a governent in Berbera and nobody dares to bring in any prohibited items. Please don't compare Berbera with the pirateland ports.
That only started when Shabaab started to threaten Puntland itself in Galgala mountains funny isn't it.
Sheik Atom was the main arms importer from bossasso since 1993.
Ethiopia and Kenya have both supplied the various TFGs and 80% of those arms have also ended up in the hands of Shabab.
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Truth10, check out what Waagacusubi qortay this morning. There is tag of war already started and your crumbling is at the door-steps boy. No peace in Somalia in the foreseeable future, unless we help you and you decided to untie the robe.
Guurguurte and the Nephew of Siyaad Barre are now fighting with the few dollars that State of Qatar has given the poor people of Somalia. That is where you belong.
LOL, mate, just worry what will happen in your doorstep, since those you created are turning against you ;). You see they say ''what goes around comes around''. Plus, I don't think your heard of, how the CIA warned to expose Silanyo and his Government, in supporting and creating Al-shabaab, if they refuse to cooperate with the wishes of the south and the rest of non-Is@@Q north-west Somalia. Keep barking :).