January 17, 2013 was a memorable day for Somalia. It was the day the United States abandoned its misguided policy towards Somalia and formally recognized the central government after 22 years. Going forward, two challenges that need to be addressed are the mobilization of an international aid package and within Somalia the overcoming of internal divisions based on clan loyalty, past injustices, collective mistakes, and fear of the future and a tendency for Somalis to look out for political self-interest. Somalia should be grateful for the decision of the Obama administration not only to liberate Somalia from Al Shabaab and lead an effort to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
This historical move must be a vindication for Michael Zorick, a former US State Department Political Officer for Somalia, who was removed in 2006 from his position after he dissented from the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policy towards Somalia and late congressman Donald Payne who challenged Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia. The announcement is also a triumph for Professor Michael A. Weinstein of Purdue University who has consistently argued for the best interests Somalia, and for John Prendergast who wrote in 2006, “Our failure in Somalia.”
Indeed, many were disappointed, skeptical and even critical of a U.S. foreign policy solely focused on the war on terror and foreign intervention without commitment to the restoration of the Somali state. Now, with its diplomatic recognition, the United States government has joined forces for the peacebuilding and statebuilding of Somalia through the New Deal Framework in opposition to the forces for trusteeship, mediated models of governance, clan based building blocks or fragmented community governance. In response to a question from Falastin Ahmed Iman of VOA on the now abandoned controversial dual track policy, Secretary of State Clinton said categorically, “But our position now is the work that we did to help establish a transitional government, to support to fight against Al Shabab, to provide humanitarian assistance, now is moving into a new era, as the president said. I believe that our job now is to listen to the government and people of Somalia, who are now in position to tell us, as well as to other partners around the world, what their plans are, how they hope to achieve them.”
I truly hope that the substance of this message is clear to all leaders of the Republic of Somalia.
The people of Somalia find themselves in an untenable position. The interest of the Somali people, of the United States and the international community at large lies in the establishment of an absolute but democratic, accountable sovereign central authority in Somalia. Here again, in her remarks, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphatically declared that the establishment of a new government through a democratic process was a personal priority for her during her time as a Secretary of State. The U.S. government finds admirable the level of commitment shown by the newly elected leaders of Somalia for carrying out their mission of nation building.
American diplomatic recognition gives hope to millions of Somalis languishing in refugee camps in the neighboring countries or in internally displaced persons camps. Surely, huge challenges are coming that demand swift action by the Obama administration. However, it is up to the people of Somalia to step up and make responsible decisions for their future. According to Hillary Clinton, the United States has promised nation-to-nation relations, a steadfast partner to Somalia as Somalia makes the decisions on her own future.
Between 2009 and 2012 the United States spent close to 1.4 billion dollars on Somalia’s development. The human and material costs inflicted on Somali civilians are immense. The Obama administration has fundamentally altered shortsighted U.S. policy towards Somalia started by the previous administration. The path followed to arrive at today’s turning point was tortuous, troublesome and tarnished. For example, the constitution process and resultant provisional constitution have sowed political and constitutional confusions that could undermine the benefits expected out of U.S. diplomatic recognition. Nevertheless, the future role that the United States will play as described by Hillary Clinton could mitigate those flaws: “The president had a chance to meet President Obama earlier today at the white house, and that was a very strong signal to the people of Somalia of our continuing support and commitment. So as you, Mr. President and your leaders work to build democratic institutions, protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, respond to humanitarian needs, build the economy, please know that the United States will be a steadfast partner with you every step of the way.”
Somalia is now a bankrupt country. It owes billions of dollars to international creditors while it urgently needs billions of dollars in the way of grants over the next 10 years for development projects and recovery. The federal government lacks the political and institutional capacity necessary to navigate through the complex conditionality procedures regulating countries in arrears or debt default with the international lenders like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank or to get access to international financial markets. Therefore, Somalia needs the power and voice of the United States to navigate these choppy waters. Hillary Clinton offered some a hopeful commitment on this issue by suggesting, “So today is milestone. It’s not the end of the journey but it’s an important milestone to that end. We respect the sovereignty of Somalia, and as two sovereign nations we will continue to have an open, transparent dialogue about what more we can do to help the people of Somalia realize their own dreams.”
It is not a secret that Somalia is not a cohesive society. However, without immediate collective action, the new momentum could be lost and the result would be a disaster for all Somalis. Genuine, practical, respectful, and responsible dialogue among Somali stakeholders and the elite is the path for win-win outcomes.