New Business Ethiopia
Tuesday August 14, 2018
Weapons looted from a former United Arab Emirates (UAE) military
training camp are displayed during a Reuters interview in Mogadishu,
Somalia April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
The reluctance of western and other powers to act against Djibouti’s increasing arms trafficking activities poses an existential threat to the security of the Horn of Africa and imperils ongoing efforts to end long-running conflicts in the region.
EXX Africa published a special report on the arms trade in the Horn of Africa. The trade of illegal weapons in the Horn of Africa remains highly lucrative and is comprehensively entwined with transnational terrorist groups, drug smuggling, and the conflict in nearby Yemen.
The focus of the regional arms trade remains volatile Somalia and its
semi-autonomous regions where demand for weapons remains unabated
despite various embargoes and other sanctions.
Over the past few years, Djibouti has emerged as an increasingly
important hub for weapons trans-shipment to armed groups in the region.
There is growing evidence that Djibouti is acting as a strategic transit
location for weapons derived from Houthi-held territory in Yemen, which
it then ships to the Awdal region of northern Somalia through its
peacekeeping deployment in the AMISOM mission.
Djibouti’s enhanced role in regional arms trafficking is occurring at
the same time as the country’s government is seeking fresh foreign
investment in its important marine port sector and related industries.
Many Djiboutian companies that are engaged in the country’s thriving
marine sector have been implicated in the illegal weapons trade, raising
reputational risks for foreign investors seeking to participate in
Djibouti’s economy. The proliferation of weapons in Djibouti is also
raising concerns over armed criminal activity and rising risk of
terrorist attacks in a location frequented by foreign military
However, none of Djibouti’s international partners are willing to
flag such risks, fearing the potential loss of their leases on
strategically important military bases in the country. One local source
described the arms trade in the Gulf of Aden as a ‘political mess that
most western nations do not want to wade into.’ Despite evidence
implicating senior Djiboutian officials in the arms trade, there has
been no concerted effort to impose punitive sanctions on these
Djibouti’s role in regional arms trafficking is set to grow even
further as old foes Eritrea and Ethiopia seek to agree a lasting peace
that will have significant ripple effects on the arms trade supply chain
in the Horn of Africa. Armed groups in Ethiopia, Somalia, and the
Sudans, as well as al-Shabaab, have long relied on Eritrea to supply
weapons. As Eritrea seeks rapprochement with Ethiopia and a return to
the international community, its role of arms trafficking hub will
become significantly diminished.
Djibouti, which favours a weak Somalia and an isolated Eritrea, is
likely to step into the gap and leverage its existing arms trafficking
networks to continue to supply illegal weapons to armed groups in the
Horn of Africa as Eritrea potentially steps out of the trade. Since
seizing control of the Doraleh port terminal, the Djiboutian government
seems to be preparing to increase shipments through the country’s main
port. However, most shipments of illegal weapons through Djibouti will
continue to be done by smaller dhows via the fishing communities on the
south-east coast and via the Garacad port project.