BITS Field Report
March 1999

Preface and Table of Contents  available below

Small Arms in Somaliland: Their Role and Diffusion

Ekkehard Forberg
Ulf Terlinden


The Full Document is available for download as a printer friendly Adobe PDF document



1. Methodology 

2. Background 

2.1 Historical Background 

2.2 Conflict Analysis 

2.3 Definition of Regional Divisions 

3. Small Arms in the Western Part of Somaliland 

3.1 Weapons Diffusion in the Population 

3.2 Weapon-related Incidents 

3.3 The Police Force 

3.4 Military Forces 

3.5 Arms Market, Trade, Production and Prices 

3.6 Established Law, Social and Traditional Control of Weapons 

3.7 Demobilisation 

4. Small Arms in the Eastern Part of Somaliland 

4.1 Weapons Diffusion among the Population 

4.2 Weapon-related Incidents 

4.3 The Police Force 

4.4 Military Forces 

4.5 Arms Market, Trade, Production and Prices 

4.6 Weapons Control 

5. The Role of Small Arms in Somaliland 


Annex I: Interview Partners and Informal Contacts 

Annex II: Map of Somaliland 


Table 1: Patients with Gun Shot Wounds and Landmine Casualties admitted to the Surgical Hospital of Berbera 

Table 2: 1997 Registration of Patients wounded by Bullets (ANS/HI Disabled Rehabilitation Centre, Hargeisa) 

Table 3: Light Weapons of the Former National Army of the "Democratic Republic of Somalia" 

Table 4: Estimates of Prices of Light Weapons in Hargeisa 

Table 5: Estimates of Prices of Light Weapons and Ammunition in Las Anod 


Box 1: Clans in Somaliland and Respective Politico-Military Movements 

Box 2: Main Areas of Clan Settlement in Somaliland 

Box 3: The Militarisation of Somalia 

Box 4: The Structure of Somali Society 

Box 5: Examples of Recent Incidents involving Small Arms 

Box 6: Major Arms Flows in Somaliland since the Early 1980s 

Box 7: Weapon Supplies of the SNM factions 

Box 8: A recent example of Small-scale Ammunitions Trade 

Box 9: The Story of a Shoot-out 

Box 10: The Las Anod USP Camp 

Box 11: Reintegration rather than Demobilisation 


"Everybody is his own policeman."
Garaad Abshir, Las Anod

Somalia as a whole is currently often perceived by the international public to be a country in turmoil. And it is viewed that this turmoil is based on a lack of central government combined with a predominance of armed factions. However, in reality, much of Somalia, particularly Somaliland, is a rather peaceful place with - to some extent - structures of traditional or government control in place.

The following report, which is based on our field research of three weeks in March/April 1998 and on observations made in September 1998, draws a picture of the role which small arms currently have in Somaliland's post-war society. The term "Small Arms", for this report, is defined as those arms which can be carried by an individual. The definition includes pistols, revolvers, rifles, carbines, small and medium-sized machine guns, grenades, grenade launchers, light mortars and hand-held missile and rocket systems. However, our research concentrates on hand-held fire arms.

International and non-governmental organisations as well as some governments have increased their interest in problems related to the proliferation of small arms world-wide. This report has been written in the context of preparations for the project "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Assessing Issues in the Horn of Africa (SALIGAD)". The authors hope to stimulate and facilitate tailored approaches to tackle the harmful social impact of such weapons in the Horn of Africa region.

So far, very little printed information on the actual role of small arms in Somaliland is available. During our earlier review (Forberg / Terlinden 1998), we found that if literature contains small arms-related information at all, it is often limited to very special aspects of the issue, e.g. in a conflict study or in assessments of the conditions for demobilisation. Thus, this report also attempts to fill gaps in the existing literature and to document the oral information which is widely available in Somaliland. The authors believe that at the current stage of research, a comprehensive look at the role of small arms in Somaliland is needed. This may help to determine the priorities for further steps.

Information on arms transfers is occasionally available from newspapers and magazines. We have systematically searched for such information in the Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB), Jane's Defence Weekly (JDW), the German daily paper "Tageszeitung" (taz), a database of "Reuters" reports and the internet.

All in all, small arms as such no longer determine the social dynamics of daily life in Somaliland. High numbers of weapons are not seen on the street, nor are they used on a large scale. Instead, specific dangers lie in the potential of these weapons for armed conflict and individual violence.

Huge numbers of weapons are diffused in the population and are available on the market of the region as a whole. We are making a cautious assessment of the internal arms trade in Somaliland. The interregional arms trade nowadays tends to pass through (or leave) Somaliland to other parts of the Horn of Africa.

The report analyses the social and cultural roles which small arms possess in Somaliland society. Furthermore, the actual degree of (and potentials for) arms control in the different parts of Somaliland will be assessed.

We felt that at the current stage of research on the issue, it was crucial to look at every armed group in the country, including "official security organs". The police not only has the function of implementing weapon laws, it should also "lead by example" regarding the management of its own weapons, as should the army.

Apart from gathering information on small arms in Somaliland, we aimed to develop methodological skills and tools for field research on the issue in general. However, this has not been included in the report.

The research for this report has been conducted in the course of our internships in the preparatory phase of the SALIGAD project, which was funded by the Horn of Africa Programme of the Life and Peace Institute (LPI-HAP / Sweden), the German Church Development Service (AGKED) and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPACS / Canada). We particularly want to thank Wolfgang Heinrich, Johan Svensson and Kiflemariam Gebrewold, who have made our internships possible. Our colleagues at the Life and Peace Institute hosted us very kindly during our 8-month stay in the region.

There are many people whom we thank for their contributions to this report. These people are listed in Annex I, except those who wished to remain anonymous. Emmanuel Deisser deserves special mention for his highly valuable information and encouraging advice. We thank Henrietta Wilson at BITS for editing the language of the document.