U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Mogadishu’s highly fortified airport base on Tuesday for about three hours before reportedly returning to Nairobi.
During that time, he met with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and regional leaders Ahmed Madobe (IJA), Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden (ISWA), Abdiweli Gaas (Puntland), as well as Foreign Minister Abdisalaan Omer and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Abdi Aynte.
Kerry also met with civil society members from Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre and Zainab Hassan, the director of the National Library project.
During his visit with Somali leaders, Kerry crooned the State Department’s greatest hits:
“We very much look forward to working with you towards building credible elections, towards the building of a national army and towards the ability of Somalia to serve as a model for its ability to rebuild and reclaim its own future.”
The cherry on top may have been that Kerry promised to re-open the American embassy in Mogadishu, according to VOA. If true, this would correspond with chatter in Somali media that such preparations are being made.
However, results may not come for some time. In June 2014, U.S. official Wendy Sherman announced that the U.S. would nominate its first ambassador to Somalia since 1991, but it took eight months for a nominee to be named in Katherine Dhanani, who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
New Step Forward or Symbolism
The United States provides critical humanitarian support to Somalia and has made a significant impact in the security sector in taking out al-Shabaab leaders through air strikes and training Somali special forces.
But in reality, Kerry’s stop is a rare face-to-face moment of diplomacy in America’s largely remote control foreign policy in Somalia.
The U.S. has a quarantined presence at Mogadishu’s international airport, and U.S. officials are not often seen with EU, IGAD, and AU officials who attend various statebuilding functions in the country.
American diplomats can only do so much from afar. As well-respected Somali political cartoonist Amin Amir has conveyed in his work, regional actors on the ground, including Ethiopia’s General Gebre Adhana and Kenya’s Ambassador Mohamed Affey, are IGAD influencers who use their presence on the ground to shape local processes.
In this context, Kerry’s words may not resonate beyond the air-conditioned conference building from where they were spoke.
Twitter observer @AbdiNoir insinuated that the President, PM, and regional leaders were making nice during an important talk from their “father figure” Kerry. There was also a bevy of playful commentary about the peculiar setup of the demonstrably non-round table meeting.
Based on the seating arrangement, it appeared that the Somali delegation may have been trying to show that President Hassan Sheikh was open to sharing the spotlight — and maybe political power and resources — with regional leaders, who have sought more involvement in national affairs.
But the moment may have inadvertently highlighted how regional presidents have been the spotlight of the federalism process while federal cabinet ministers have struggled to find their place.
For example, Somali Foreign Minister Abdisalaan Omer — technically Kerry’s counterpart — was seated in the back of the room with Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Abdi Aynte.
There will be a long-term debate about how power should be divided between all stakeholders in Somalia in the evolving federal system.
But, based on American action (rather than rhetoric), it appears the U.S. may not be as interested in shaping that particular conversation, as much as it will be interested in humanitarian and security issues.
Categories: Int'l Community in Somalia