Commentary on the Visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Somalia
The total shutdown of the busiest “Elite Refuge Area” between Villa Somalia and Mogadishu Airport for security reasons inhibited the appreciation and celebration of the historical visit of US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Mogadishu, Somalia on May 5 2015. The Somali public did not have the opportunity to debate and express their opinion about the importance and expected contribution of the visit publicly acknowledged after the departure of the US delegation. It is confirmed that the federal government of Somalia (FGS) received confirmation of the Secretary’s arrival hours before landing in Mogadishu. A Senior State Department official joked that the Somali government expected him as the head of the delegation.
Highlights of the Visit
The joint meeting of federal and regional Presidents, the Prime Minister, and three ministers with the US Secretary of State John Kerry at Mogadishu airport raised constitutional and diplomatic questions and reinforced the perception on Federal Government’s waning leadership role and international respect as a representative of the Somali State. Conspicuously absent from the meeting was the speaker of the federal parliament, the legislative institution primarily in charge of government oversight and the tasks of Vision 2016 ( Constitutional Review, Federation Process, and Political Election in 2016). The Secretary left Mogadishu without joint press conference with Somali leaders but delivered powerful message addressed directly to the people hoping to walk down town Mogadishu on his next trip (hopefully before 2017). Few pictures of the visit show federal ministers sitting behind the presidents of regional administrations and the designated Somali Ambassador to Kenya sitting behind the US Secretary of State.
The visit takes place at a time when President Hassan Sheikh and the Presidents of the regional administrations have started blaming the international community for not providing the financial aid pledged in support of the Somali Compact (New Deal) signed in Brussels in September 2013. The repudiation of the Somali Compact that represents the basis for the cooperation between the Somali Government and the International Community could lead to the suspension of aid to Somalia. People in Mogadishu are feeling high taxation, other financial burdens, increasing inflation, and decline of economic activity.
The salient points of Secretary Kerry’s message to the Somali People
The encouraging message of Secretary Kerry repeated the US support for the unity, stability, and prosperity of Somalia. It reiterated the themes of the US Foreign Policy towards Somalia delivered by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman in June 2014. It reaffirmed the US Commitment to help Somalia on the precondition that the Somali leaders and people are willing to do the difficult job of making Somalia a fully united country that wants to occupy an honored place on the regional and global stage for generation to come.
Secretary Kerry described the Somali people as resilient and determined to reclaim their future from the terrorists and militias. But he missed to add “and from other destructive foreign powers meddling in the internal affairs of Somalia.”
After emphasizing the security priority for the US government by thanking the African Union forces (AMISOM) and by expressing the determination to support an “integrated” Somali National Army (SNA), Secretary Kerry said, “We all have a stake in your success. The world cannot afford to have places on the map that are essentially ungoverned. That is why Somalia’s return to effective government is an historic opportunity.”
The message stresses the need to quickly and completely address the question of governance. This position soberly accepts the reality that the FGS recognized by President Obama Administration in 2013 fell far short of the expectation of improving governance and security in Somalia.
But the US plan and approach for addressing the issue of governance is ambiguous, incoherent, and perplexing. A senior US department has conceded that there will not be one person one vote in 2016 in Somalia but insisted that there should be a better process of selecting new members of federal parliament as opposed to the one of 2012.
In an article titled, “Kerry’s Lost Opportunity in Mogadishu,” Maria-Burnet of Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that Secretary Kerry lost the opportunity to speak out in his public message three issues that are fundamental to peace, public confidence in government and free and fair election in 2016: (1) Federal Government accountability and respect of rule of law; (2) media freedom able to air controversial and divergent views without fear of violence and intimidation; and (3) improvement of the basic human rights of all Somalis. Public discourse circulates widespread abuse of power, forced expropriation and evictions of internally displaced people from public buildings, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and prolonged detention without legal process. The HRW issued several critical reports for discontinuation and reform by the FGS and the international partners.
Other ignored critical issues during the visit include blocked remittances from the United States, the US support for the protection of territorial maritime of Somalia, and the protection of Somali refugees in Kenya and elsewhere.
Challenges to the US Policy towards Somalia
The implementation of US policy towards Somalia based on security, governance, and development does not match the real condition and priorities in Somalia. For example, the US position of considering the Presidents of the federal government and regional administrations as “a new Somali Leadership Forum” is a sidetrack. The federal parliament which represents the Somali people has the power to debate and decide the form, structure, and powers of government. The alternative is a national convention.
On the question of security, it is hard to fathom the possibility of having integrated Somali National Army (SNA) when there is no integrated country with one flag, one national government, and one policy. Fresh reports indicate that 3,000 soldiers trained with the help of donors by the African Union are missing.
Trained and armed soldiers as well as civilians are not paid for months. Therefore, the starving government forces beg, harass, and extort the public for livelihood.
The crisis arising from the federation process is spreading, intensifying and alarming. The economic and political chaos within each units and the controversies between all units (Benadir Region and Southwest State, Jubbaland and Southwest, Puntland and Khatumo State, Puntland and Somaliland, Mudug/Galgudud and Puntland, federal government and Hiiraan Region) are multiplying beyond control. Puntland Administration rejected the independent Commissions approved by the Council of Ministers. President Hassan repudiated the Garowe Communiqué on the 2nd Federal States Meeting. Furthermore, former Prime Ministers and other leaders from Benadir region met with the Head of UN Mission in Somalia Ambassador Nicholas Kay and sought his support for the formation of Benadir Federal State.
On the same day of Secretary Kerry’s visit, the chairperson of the Constitution Review Commission Asha Ghelle Dirie resigned and issued a statement listing six reasons for her resignation. Asha believes that it is impossible to have a constitution in Somalia before the scheduled election in August 2016 for the complete absence of shared consensus and interests on the foundations of a constitution establishing national government. The 2012 Provisional Constitution approved by 825 member National Constituent Assembly (NCA) is in dispute. She also blamed the federal government and regional administrations for lack of interests and priority for a national constitution. She also noted foreign interests hampering the writing of new constitution and undermining Somali ownership.
In the light of the above developments, Somalia needs support for representative, well-structured, and transparent internal dialogue on reconciliation and statebuilding centered on national democratic constitution promoting Somali values, culture, and future. Setbacks and unsustainable solutions can compound social deprivation that will help the spread of all sorts of criminal activities and human tragedies.
It is time for the international community to respond to the realities and needs of the Somali people and leave aside foreign driven social and political transformation and piecemeal reforms that stifle local ownership, leadership, facilitate deception and political demagoguery, and promote prolonged presence of foreign forces now increasingly resented by the local population and leaders. President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas has criticized the presence of foreign forces in Somalia in his speech during the 2nd meeting of the Presidents of the federal and regional administrations in Garowe Puntland.