What is the significance of the visit of the US Secretary of State to Mogadishu International Airport this week?
I think it’s fair to say that, at a minimum, it constitutes a signal that the US is looking for ways to be more engaged politically in supporting state revival and recovery, and that while US security concerns will still dominate its Somalia policy, Somalis can expect to see more American attention to the Somali political process. There may be an especially useful role for the US in helping to encourage Somalia’s autonomous regional states into more routinized, codified relations with the federal government. The Secretary of State’s visit was a valuable signal of support to the administration of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, but one that also put pressure on Mohamud’s administration to move speedily on key outstanding tasks required to make some sort of election in 2016 possible.
It would easy to overstate the importance of this short visit — the Obama administration has only modest political influence in Somalia at present, and has many other urgent international crises claiming its attention. But this visit seems to be signaling more than just symbolic support — it shows a genuine interest in political re-engagement in Somalia.
His remarks below:
Remarks in Mogadishu, Somalia
Secretary of State
May 5, 2015
I’m very, very pleased to be able to come to Somalia today. It was important to be able to meet face to face with President Hassan Sheikh and with Prime Minister Sharmarke and regional leaders and with a range of civil society representatives. As everybody knows, more than 20 years ago, the United States was forced to pull back from this country. And now we’re returning in collaboration with our international community and with high hopes mixed, obviously, with ongoing concerns.
My brief visit confirms what diplomats have been telling me: The people here are both resilient and determined to reclaim their future from the terrorists and the militias who’ve been attempting to steal it. Over the past quarter century, Somalis have known immense suffering from violence, from criminals, from sectarian strife, from dire shortages of food, and from an inability to remain safely within their villages and their homes. In Kenya yesterday, I spoke through an internet link with refugees in Dadaab who had fled their homes for protection from the persecution and from the violence, from the war. I met Somalis who were 15, 18, 20 years old who had never lived anywhere except in a refugee camp; this in an era of unprecedented globalization and opportunity.
So I’m here today because Somalia is making progress in its mission to turn things around. Three years have passed since a new provisional constitution was adopted and a parliament was sworn in. With help from AMISOM, the UN mission here, the United Nations has contributed significantly to this progress. Somali forces have pushed al-Shabaab out of major population centers. A determined international effort has put virtually all of Somalia’s pirates out of business. New life has returned to the streets of Mogadishu, and fresh hope to the people of all the country. I want to acknowledge particularly the remarkable commitment and sacrifice of the nations and countries that make up a part of AMISOM, particularly Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, and previously Sierra Leone. It is really a great statement about the leadership of African nations stepping up to deal with African problems.
The question now is how quickly and completely the next steps of governing will be taken. The Somali Government has put forward a blueprint for the country’s development as a unified and federal state. It is working with the new regional administration to enhance stability and sow the seeds of prosperity in every part of Somalia. That includes finding the right balance of authority and responsibility between the national, the regional, and the local levels. And we look forward to seeing progress soon on an integration process between the regional forces into the Somali National Army so that we can broaden our security assistance to those forces.
The government is also working towards finalizing and holding democratic elections in 2016. The president, the prime minister, and the regional leaders affirmed to me today that they are committed to making progress on these issues and ensuring that there is a broad consensus on exactly how the constitutional review and the elections are going to proceed. And in addition, he also committed to me today that the mandate will not be extended beyond 2016, that the government will keep the schedule of Vision 2016 and avoid delays, that they will appoint the members of the national independent electoral commission and the boundaries and federation commission by next week. He committed that they will work with parliament to pass the political parties law by next month, and committed to move forward with the integration of the National Army. So I am confident that the leaders came together today from the regions and the federal government to affirm solidly their determination to work cooperatively with the international community and to move the reform process of governance of Somalia forward.
We all have a stake in what happens here in Somalia. The world cannot afford to have places on the map that are essentially ungoverned. We learned in 2001 what happens when that is the case, and we have seen on a continued basis with splinter groups how they are determined to try to do injury to innocent people and to whole nations by operating out of ungoverned spaces. And so Somalia’s return to effective government is an historic opportunity for everybody to push back against extremism and to empower people in a whole country to be able to live the promise of their nation.
In recognition of the progress made and the promise to come, I’m pleased to announce that the United States will begin the process of establishing the premises for a diplomatic mission in Mogadishu. And while we do not yet have a fixed timeline for reopening the embassy, we are immediately beginning the process of upgrading our diplomatic representation. And I look forward, as does the President, to the day when both the United States and Somalia have full-fledged missions in each other’s capital city again. And I look forward as well to the time when we can say, and all the world will be able to see and to measure, that this country is fully united, combining regional strengths with national purpose, able to welcome its refugees home, and secure in a new Somalia that occupies an honored place on the regional and global stage for generations to come.
That is a job, in the end, that only Somalis can accomplish. But together with many other international partners, the United States is prepared to do what we can to help bring Somalia the peace and prosperity and security and the future that the people of Somalia want and that they deserve. Thank you.
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