The Obama administration recently announced that the United States will appoint an ambassador to Somalia for the first time in two decades. But the new ambassador will not be posted in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu — where insecurity prevails. And the Pentagon has also acknowledged deploying a team of military advisers to war-torn Somalia, to assist Somali and other African troops battle the Somali extremist group, al-Shabab.
But this new, expanding involvement in Somalia’s conflict will do little to make a difference in Somalia or bolster the position of the U.S.-backed, beleaguered Somali government.
The Obama administration’s narrative about Somalia is a country that is making slow but steady progress. U.S. officials are arguing that now is a good time to stabilize Somalia. They say the country has made some gains in security and economic conditions: Al-Shabab has been driven out of most of the population centers in south-central Somalia, with the help of African Union troops; a legitimate Somali government has formed; and a road map calling for nationwide elections by 2016 is in place.
But the facts on the ground show that Somalia is still a mess. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s unelected government, the first Somali government the United Stateshas recognized since 1991, barely controls Mogadishu — where al-Shabab is waging asymmetrical warfare with car and suicide bombings, including the recent, repeatattacks on Somalia’s presidential palace and the parliament. In addition, al-Shabab is still wreaking havoc in south-central Somalia and neighboring countries.
Describing the depth of corruption in Somalia, Ahmed Samatar, professor of international studies at Macalester College, who ran for president of Somalia in 2012, said in a recent interview with Minnesota public radio, “Somalia’s future is bleak because of the parochial, clannish politics of incompetent and corrupt leaders, who are looking only after their own self interest…”
Today, U.S. counterterrorism efforts and the billions of dollars in training and financing provided to Somali and 22,000 African Union soldiers from 11 countries thus far have failed to impose order on the war-torn country.
In fact, the African Union mission has become a cash cow for the private contractors who profit from the troubled lands and a valuable source of foreign exchange for the poor, troop-contributing African countries. And, a vehicle for the U.S. Africa Command, created by the George W. Bush administration in 2008, to make its existence relevant and to protect itself from Pentagon budget cuts.
Let’s not forget, before the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu was pillaged by Somalis and before the warlords, pirates and al-Shabab terrorized Somalia, the anarchy that still is plaguing Somalia was planted by a despicable Somali dictator, Siad Barre.
Siad Barre was corrupt and oppressive but had the financial, military and political backing of the United States, because it was during the Cold War. After an insurrection, the military dictatorship fell in 1991.
And the root causes of Somalia’s disaster can be traced to Barre’s dictatorship.
In fact, after three decades of Somali unity failed disastrously, in May 2001, 90 percent of the northern Somalis voted for a referendum for independence from the rest of Somalia and declared their territories the Republic of Somaliland. Since then, Somaliland has established a functioning democratic state with all the attributes of a nation: defined borders, constitution, flag and currency. But Somaliland is not perfect.
Yet despite its achievements, for political reasons, America is using its diplomatic muscle to suppress Somaliland’s quest for diplomatic recognition while America is expending vast resources to prop up a useless Somali government. This is an example of how the West fumbles its dealing with Somalia.
Moreover, Puntland, an autonomous region in eastern Somalia, which used to be a hotbed of the piracy, wants to remain in Somalia on a federally based government system, if Mogadishu gets its act together.
Instead of sinking in more money into the black hole that is the corrupt government in Mogadishu — which lacks the consent of the Somalis and credibility – America should rather take into account the facts on the ground and should support the organic solutions that have worked and benefited Somalis for the last two decades: the Republic of Somaliland and Puntland.
Nevertheless, America and the rest of the international community can offer the Somalis a helping hand; but first, the warring Somali clans must come together and stop fighting among themselves. In fact, Somalia needs a massive genuine political reconciliation before it needs a central government. Then the Somalis might have a fighting chance to defeat al-Shabab and reclaim their country.
Moreover, Somaliland deserves a chance to decide on its own fate.
But keeping the status quo would mean renewed famine, prolonged human suffering, more radicalism and risking U.S. treasure and a repeat of another “Black Hawk Down” tragedy.
Ali Mohamed is co-founder of the Horn of Africa Freedom Foundation in Lewis Center, Ohio. He can be reached at email@example.com.