By Michael Shank
Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.
Last weekend, in response to a deadly attack on the Turkish embassy in Somalia that killed three and wounded nine, the U.S. government responded by saying that, “this cowardly act will not shake our commitment to continue working for the brighter, more democratic and prosperous future the people of Somalia deserve.”
The statement followed not one bombing in Somalia, but two. This past Saturday’s bombing was the second in under a week; a few days prior, a bomb blew up in a lawmaker’s car, killing one.
But while such a positive American response is assuredly better than The Economist’s this summer, which described Somalia as “a byword for conflict, poverty and ungovernability,” it is still riddled with problems. Indeed, ironically, it is exactly this kind of U.S. government-issued statement that fuels the sort of resentment that ultimately leads to more bombings. The U.S. State Department, and the Defense Department for that matter, have never been in the business of working effectively for a brighter, more democratic and prosperous future for the people of Somalia. Their legacy heralds quite the opposite, in fact.
Beyond the $1.5 billion provided in U.S. security assistance since 2009, and the myriad air strikes that America has rained down on Somalia, the U.S. has created an untenable aid situation where any association with terrorist group Al-Shabaab, however remote, is illegal. Never mind the fact that much of Somalia is in dire straits and that Al-Shabaab, organizationally speaking, is fluid and amorphous. This makes basic support for many Somalis next to impossible.
Useful American support is still possible, but is currently being implemented through top-down, government channels. Even as last week’s bombings occurred, round two of the New Deal donor conference, which will commit Somalia and its international partners to a three-year reconstruction plan, was taking place.
In a keynote speech last month, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said that the New Deal is critical in bringing Somalia out of “its fragile situation.” Certainly, the president should know something about peacebuilding, having attended summer coursework at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. And such remarks are more positive than those by African Union Special Representative for Somalia Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who said “we must intensify military operations that have unfortunately slowed down for a while now.”
Still, the fact is that Somalia needs help building its institutions, developing economically, and improving its legal and security infrastructure. In all the years that the West – America or Britain – aided and abetted war efforts in Somalia, very little money, time or skill was spent on building capacity in the country. Indeed, any capacity building was always undertaken primarily through an interlocutor, be it the African Union, or worse, a neighboring country like Ethiopia or Kenya.
This practice must stop. We must prevent not encourage neighbors preying upon Somalia’s affairs. That Ethiopian troops are still sticking around in parts of Somalia is unacceptable. Discussions last month for an eventual departure were insufficient. They need to leave. Similarly, the African Union Mission of Somalia also needs an exit strategy, something that will only be possible after Somali security forces are properly trained. Only Somalia can secure Somalia’s future. Ethiopian intervention has only ever exacerbated the problem of violence.
Next week I travel to Somalia. After writing for years about this country – from the devastating stories about the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, and her misguided policies for the Horn, to stories about the Defense Department’s random and indiscriminate air strikes on southern Somalia – I wanted to finally see for myself the counter-productive consequences of our counter-terrorism policies.
Somalia can stand tall in spite of countless interventions by neighbors near and far. Perhaps the best byword for Somalia is “resilience,” a trait that is essential as the country looks toward a new dawn.