Mogadishu, February 20, 2010 — Islamist insurgents
and fighters from Somalia's government forces mingle peacefully at
Mogadishu's main weapons market, but both sides are stocking up ahead of
a major government offensive.
Civilians have fled the city and many shops have closed down, as the
government offensive, supported by African Union troops, is believed to
For weapons dealer Abdi Hirsi however, business is brisk.
His best-selling item is a Chinese handgun, whose market value has
appreciated by 25 percent in recent days.
"The Chinese pistol which was going for 560 dollars now fetches around
700," he told AFP. "I'm talking about a brand new one, complete with
sealed packaging and all."
"If you buy a larger quantity, we can bring the price down a bit or make
a serious discount on the ammo," Hirsi said.
The young dealer added apologetically that rocket-propelled grenade
(RPG) launchers were out of stock since last week. "But I can get some
from other merchants if there's a serious buyer."
The market is situated in Bakara, a restive northern neighborhood of
Mogadishu and the mercantile heart of the Somali capital.
An intricate web of narrow alleyways that has chronically provided
useful shelter to armed groups, Bakara offers everything from food to
textile products, as well as gold, fuel and a vast choice of looted
In one corner of the market area is the weapons market, which is known
in Somali as Irtoogte -- "sky-shooters" -- because dealers and customers
habitually test the goods on the spot.
"Testing is essential to verify that the product is operational, we
can't be selling fake guns to people," said 34-year-old Ahmed Mohamed,
another arms retailer.
Irtoogte was officially closed down by the transitional federal
government in 2007 and the Shabaab -- the rebel group sympathetic to Al
Qaeda that controls most of the country -- also banned it a year later
after capturing the area.
Mogadishu's dealers started conducting their business less openly but
for those who can afford it, purchasing an assault rifle is barely
harder than buying a mobile phone.
"You can't display your weapons on the street like before but it is
important to carry on and keep looking for customers," said Mohamed.
"The Shabaab and the government may confiscate our goods if they see
them so we have to keep our commodities in a safe place and deliver
directly to the buyer," he explained.
The Sky-shooters market also includes repairmen.
"They can do a nice job with a lot of things from machineguns to ageing
anti-aircraft weapons. They work for everybody because they are not
factionally biased," said Abdillahi Sheikh Omar, another dealer.
Sheikh Omar deals mainly in the everlasting AK-47, which he explained
sells at 650 dollars when new and as little as 150 dollars when used.
Landmines are hard to find but available and ammunition comes in many
sizes and at generally low cost, such is the extent to which Somalia has
been awash with weapons for years.
Mohamoud Abdi, a 23-year-old Shabaab fighter looking for a good deal, is
disappointed because he can't find ammunition for the US-made 106mm M40
recoilless rifle, an old but efficient anti-tank weapon.
"The guns are here but there's no ammunition for the 106. If we were
able to use those rifles, the African Union forces would scamper home
like the UN troops did in 1995," he said.
The UN group monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia said in a report a
year ago that "as much as 80 per cent of the international investment in
building the TFG security forces has been diverted to purposes other
than those for which it was intended."
Amnesty International said in a recent report that it believed "the TFG
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 markets."
Source: AFP, February 18, 2010