Tuesday, June 3, 2014

United States Takes Diplomatic Aim at Somalia

     Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman outlined the United States' policy toward Somalia Tuesday in a speech at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington.  As part of her address, she stated that the president is prepared to announce the first US ambassador to Somalia in nearly twenty years.  Somalia, as Under Secretary Sherman pointed out, "became a synonym for chaos overnight."  Plagued by political unrest, terrorism, and famine, the nation grew very poor and unstable.  The United States is trying to focus more resources to the region, in part due to the rising concerns of the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab, who Bronwny Bruton of the Atlantic Council stated is the greatest threat and interest for the United States in Africa.

     Africa has also garnered global attention as an economic hotbed and a region inflicted with constant violence.  Under Secretary Sherman stated in her speech that seven of the world's ten fastest growing economies are located in Africa.  China has become a giant trading partner in Africa and the United States wants to ensure its stake in the continent as well.  United States' interest in Somalia stems from a general interest in assisting nations stabilize their economies.  The Under Secretary maintained a secure and stable Somalia would allow refugees in surrounding nations to return back to Somalia, weaken terrorism, improve other maritime nations if the threat of piracy is eliminated, and reduce strain on peacekeeping forces.  Additionally, the United States holds a strong interest in Somalia given a rich American-Somali heritage as one third of Somalia's income is derived from remittances.

     Furthermore, Africa Union (AU) and regional actors are taking more responsibility for Somali security and the security of other troubled nations as AU peacekeepers have assisted in efforts in Nigeria and the Central African Republic as well.  Under Secretary Sherman asserted that the role of the United States and the rest of the world is to nurture this gradual process in Africa.  Somalia's port location can serve to spur industry and imports provided security continues to dispel piracy.  Under Secretary Sherman noted key victories against terrorist cells in which AMISOM and UN forces have re-taken the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

     However, al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and global threat.  While the US has weakened core-al-Qaeda, the Under Secretary noted, terrorists have evolved and affiliates such as al-Shabaab are resilient.  As Ms. Bruton stated recently while publicly discussing al-Shabaab, their shift from a regional focus to a more global focus (with the United States is their primary global target) is an act of desperation caused from continued regional support to dispel them from Somalia.  Under Secretary Sherman was also sure to expand upon President Obama's speech at the United States Military Academy last week reiterating the importance of the new anti-terrorism partnership fund, which will assist US partners to respond effectively to terrorism threats.  Additionally, Under Secretary Sherman reiterated President Obama's commitment to use force unilaterally separate from US partners to protect Americans from imminent threats.  Under Secretary Sherman mentioned that strikes against US enemies will continue as long as there is "near certainty" no civilians will be killed.   

     The three pillars the United States plans to enact to lift-up Somalia again are security, governance, and development.  The United States has stationed Special Forces to train the Somali army to be more equipped at addressing security concerns.  Terrorist actors thrive in governance vacuums so building a strong governance state in Somalia will help dispel terrorist activity.  Education is immensely important to developing nations according to Under Secretary Sherman.  The situation in Nigeria where over 200 school girls were kidnapped is deeply troubling and the Under Secretary noted how integral education is in society.  Somalia's arid soil poses problems for the agriculture sector, which the United States has focused the majority of their efforts toward to help it grow and discourage al-Shabaab from acquiring and apprehending much needed supplies of food. 

     The Obama administration believes now is the right time for Somalia.  Real estate in Mogadishu is improving along with local sea ports.  Regional actors and the Somali people have led efforts to dispel groups such as al-Shabaab and secure their nation.  However, Under Secretary Sherman pointed out that it is important for local communities to integrate into the national framework in order for Somalia to succeed.  Africa and Somalia are incredibly diverse, but this diversity can lead to schisms in society between clans and tribes.  Dialogue, the ballot box, and the judicial process is how integration will be achieved according to the Under Secretary.  "The truly defining test for Somalia," Under Secretary Sherman stated, is not al-Shabaab, or poverty, but if the Somali people want to exist in a separated, segregated society, or if they want to unite.  If they want to unite, Under Secretary Sherman asserted, the Somali people will get strong international support.               

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