Mogadishu (UM) – The Somali Government and people should welcome the new US Ambassador to Somalia Donald Y. Yamamoto’s arrival this week. Who would have thought President Donald Trump would expedite the appointment of an Ambassador to any country let alone Somalia? By an act of miracle Somalia has been assigned an Ambassador and a very experienced one too so there is reason for some celebration. Ambassador Yamamoto is one of the most experienced US diplomats with a focus on Africa and he clearly has some clout and influence back in Washington, at least within the weakened State Department, which serves Somalia well. Perhaps a reason for President Farmaajo to smile when he was accepting Ambassador Yamamotos credentials today.
On the US Mission to Somalia website it says that Ambassador Yamamoto’s appointment is “a symbol of the significance that the United States places on our relationship with the people and government of Somalia” and that the Ambassador “is looking forward to working with sectors of Somali society such as youth leaders, women leaders, educators, community and traditional leaders, civil society groups, business people, Federal Government and Regional Member State officials, and security sector partners to help build a brighter future for Somalia.” All this is welcome news and it is fundamental this government and other sectors of society understand that they must capitalize on this.
The USA is an enduring partner of Somalia and as the only superpower in the world, the USA plays a major role in Somalia’s development and economic recovery. The traditional US support in the Somali security sector and the resettling of Somali refugees which has produced President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohammed Farmajo himself alongside Congress woman Ilhan Omar are notable areas of successful cooperation. The fact that the official currency of Somalia remains the dollar in the absence of the shilling is also a key indicator of the role and influence of America in Somali economic affairs. Yet, Somali has no credible policy of engagement with the USA which is led by an unpredictable and politically nationalistic President Trump who probably does not know where Somalia is on a map. The Somali government still has no formal Ambassador to Washington and since his personal return from the role, Minister Ahmed Awad has made no real effort to replace himself and left the Embassy in the care of volunteers and inexperienced political appointees. Now, this must be compared with the US action of appointing one of their best to Somalia and swift action must be taken if the government values its relations with the USA.
Somalia’s challenges and the policy priorities of this government thankfully match. Yet, resources and skills are in short supply. Far worse, vision and leadership is also lacking because of weak unaccountable institutions still dominated by clan tensions. One of the worst examples of this is the security sector which needs to speed up the necessary reforms to effectively function and achieve the very distant dream of taking responsibility for the country’s security from AMISOM. In this area of security, especially, military training, counter-terrorism, intelligence and financing for stability, there is no better financially and diplomatically equipped nation than the USA. There is also no greater interest the US globally than defeating international terrorism. If this government is wise and serious about more than just its survival until the next election, it will reach out to the Americans sincerely and seek further support while committing themselves to greater transparency and expediting the security sector reforms like the US demands. When security is fixed, there are no greater risk takers and entrepreneurs than the US companies and they will surely be among the first to invest in Somalia.
On the US side, Ambassador Yamamoto must be more hopeful and proactive in registering the successes of the Somalia government and people. We are going slowly, but we have come from far. Now, the US must sit with the Somali government and support it to finally defeat international terrorism on its soil with more than nice words and diplomatic support. Washington may not be interested in Somalia for any other reason other than security at present but defeating a common enemy will open the doors to greater opportunities for both sides. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed.
On the issues of protocol and confidence building, perhaps the US should start the relations under the new ambassador by not embarrassing the Somai leadership by forcing them to meet inside Halane and start coming to Villa Somalia. President Farmaajo looks ridiculous accepting the credentials of a US ambassador in his own makeshift office.