Jihana, Yemen

By Khaled Abdullah

If you are looking for an AK-47, a sniper rifle or even an anti-aircraft gun, it takes only half-an-hour of shopping around in this arms market, one of Yemen’s biggest weapons markets, to find one.
The market is located in Jihana, a village some 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Yemen is one of the countries most heavily armed with deadly weapons.

Although this is mainly a tribal society where tribes are armed to the teeth, there are still too many guns for sale in the country’s robust arms markets, as if the entire population must be armed. “Here, you can get fully armed as you can be,” Jihana arms dealer Mohammad Sharaf said. An AK-47 can cost between $700 and $1,700 depending on age, make and quality. The only man shop owners do not welcome is a photojournalist. Many of them believe that the more publicity their market gets the more government crackdown they receive.

“Please go away!” shouted one trader in Jihana. “We don’t need more problems because of you mediamen!” shouted another. But some were happy to display their goods; machine guns, assault rifles and pistols to the camera.

In an attempt by the Yemeni government to control the arms trade, it launched a nationwide campaign in 2007 to close arms bazaars, including Jihana, and although police forced around 300 weapons shops in 18 arms bazaars to close, the shops were allowed to reopen just six months later.

Yemen is struggling to restore normality following the armed confrontations in the capital Sanaa and other cities amid the Arab Spring-style uprising that forced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Although one of the main hindrances to restoring security and stability is the weaponry in the hands of civilians, militiamen and tribesmen, a visitor to one or more of the weapons markets around Sanaa can easily realize how business is still booming at those markets.