American-Somali relations: What’s in the words?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud address reporters before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud address reporters before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

As a former detractor who has not been a fan of the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward Somalia, it is an overstatement to say that I watched Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman’s speech on June 3 with certain level of skepticism. Of course, nothing more than that healthy dose necessary in politics to clear the vision and fine-tune the mind. Nonetheless, I wasn’t expecting any substantive change.

So, when a friend called me right before Ambassador Sherman unfolded the new policy to ask what I thought was coming, my response was, “Nothing more than kinder, gentler drone diplomacy.” But I was wrong, though not entirely.

Ambassador Sherman’s speech at the USIP was perhaps the most comprehensive and insightful presentation on Somalia in the past two decades. Aside from the meaning conveyed through the script, the ambassador delivered it with the right temperament and tone.

The Foreign Side

The speech was dotted with sufficient diplomatic signals that not only indicate U.S. readiness to do business with Somalia, but also to establish — especially with regard to the regional powers — that “there is a new sheriff in town.”

Officially, the U.S. now have boots on the ground to train the Somali National Army, systematically do away with the ever-mushrooming private security contractors, and pave the way for an AMISOM exist. Though the latter has done a great job in helping to stabilize Somalia, it has been on a downward trajectory with regard to public confidence and support by Somalis ever since Kenya and Ethiopia had joined its ranks. Ever since they joined AMISOM, al-Shabbab which was swept out of Mogadishu since 2011, made a comeback with belligerent vengeance. Among other violent operations, they attacked Villa Somalia where both the Somali President and Prime Minister work and live and the Parliament while in session.

Read it at the Foreign Policy Association.