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The Horn of Africa States Arms Smuggling

By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
February 13th, 2023

Arms smuggling is part of the mayhem the Horn of Africa States is exposed to and, since it has a long coast of some 4,700 km, many find it easy to smuggle arms and weapons and drugs and other illicit goods and/or even illegal people trafficking. Many writings are made on the subject and most of them are simply regurgitation of matters that were going on for the past forty years. Who in the world does not know that there is terrorism in the Horn of Africa States and who does not know that some of the states in the region have been dismantled for reasons that have nothing to do with the people of those states and who does not know that there are forces beyond the region determined to keep the region destabilized and in a state of ruin? Who basically does not know that there are always weapons coming into the Horn of Africa States legally or illegally? Who does not know that there is ongoing fighting in the region?

Apart from the regurgitation, worse are the solutions proposed against the arms smuggling. They say there must be expansion of the mandate of plans of the Contact Group on Piracy off the coast of Somalia to include arms smuggling. What is the purpose of the Contact Group and who are they and what do they do in Somalia? Why shouldn’t the Somali government be enabled to deal with legal or illegal activities in its own waters instead of giving mandates to others?

They also say that regional instruments such as Nairobi Protocol for Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and the Bordering States with the AU’s Silencing the Guns initiative should be aligned. Again there is no mention of the owners of the waters and foreign parties that seem to be part of the problem are being enabled and financed. This is a purely a Horn of Africa States issue and should be addressed by the owners of the seas and ocean under discussion and if help should be given, it should only be to the states of the region and no one else.

And they also suggest that dysfunctional organizations such as IGAD, where most of them are not even littoral states should handle the waters of some of the states. It is how the African Union and IGAD both failed because they treat the wrong diseases in the wrong patients. Most of the waters of the region belong to Eritrea, Djibouti and the largest part belongs to Somalia. These states should be enabled and financed instead of being undermined. Many have no clue of the region and its history and hence have no idea of the impact of their suggestions/proposals on the region and the states involved. Many groups do, indeed, enable the smugglers themselves and those who steal the maritime wealth of the Horn of Africa States. They may call themselves NGOs or groups that are financed to paint the region a useless one that needs to be protected in the eyes of the world. They are institutions and organizations whose raison d’etre is to provide false information to extract funds from well meaning countries and people.

The Horn of Africa States region owns some 4,700 km of a coastal belt excluding the coasts along its numerous islands. This, indeed, is a long coast and should be protected from prying eyes of foreigners and smugglers of not only arms but also of drugs, people trafficking and other maritime crimes including theft of goods. The region is a major passageway for a good part of global trade and the sensible solution is not involve foreign parties but strengthen the countries that own the waters. Anything beyond that, smells of hidden and shady agendas, that would not assure of the safety of the region or its waters. No doubt some of the citizens of the region would be enticed by the making of quick money in the process, but the only rational, logical way to protect these waters from arms smuggling or any other smuggling is to assist the littoral states. Their navies should be built and armed and financed and this would go a long way, at the end, to benefit international trade and reduction of insurance on maritime and other related risks.

When, for example, Somalia’s navy was in place, no one spoke of piracy in the region. This should be easily re-established for where there is a will, there is always a way. At the moment, it seems no one wants to have Somalia patrol its own waters for when that happens, there would no weapons smuggling. There is why perhaps wrong solutions are being pushed instead of the right approach to matters that obviously look simple, but are truly more complicated than they appear to be. Shade after shade and layer on top of another layer, the politics of the Horn of Africa States is not an easy task!

Without an effective Horn of Africa states- led operations, foreign parties and navies would only aggravate the matter be it European or otherwise and the smuggling of illegal “whatever” would continue. The Horn of Africa States waters does not need other navies and other nations’ protection, and if only they could lift their hands off the region, it would be more helpful.