As American Ambassador Nominee Withdraws, Somali-U.S. Diplomacy Remains at a Crossroads


Katherine Dhanani

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama withdrew his nomination for Ambassador to Somalia in career diplomat Katherine Dhanani, who reportedly backed out due to “personal reasons,” according to officials.

It is unclear what factors were at play with Dhanani’s decision.

Equally interesting, there have been claims this week that Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke has been in dispute with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud over the latter’s bid to appoint Ahmed Isse Awad as Somali Ambassador to the U.S.

Sharmarke briefly served as Somali Ambassador to the U.S. for about six months before taking up the PM position in December 2014. Awad, who had competed against Sharmarke for PM, is allegedly close with the Damul Jadiid leadership that comprises President Hassan Sheikh’s inner circle and a rival to Sharmarke.

Since Sharmarke became PM, there does not appear to have been a replacement for Somali Ambassador to the U.S.

Thus, even though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Mogadishu was meant to boost diplomatic ties between the two countries, there is no traditional platform for diplomatic engagement at the moment.

Both the U.S. and Somalia lack respective ambassadors in each country at a time in which Somali-U.S. relations are at an interesting crossroads.

In the United States, there continues to be provocative commentary that has portrayed Somali-Americans to a strong degree as potential ISIS recruits or inspirers of violence — potentially creating the grounds for more harmful stereotypes particularly against Black Muslims in the U.S.

At the same time, many Somali-Americans who abhor extremists’ ideology and violence also do not trust some authorities who are perceived to be more interested in surveillance rather than working together on sensitive issues. This was highlighted at a recent meeting with U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger and the Somali-American community in Minneapolis:

Despite Luger’s pledge, many Somalis find it hard to trust law enforcement agencies, given their experience in their homeland and concerns about FBI conduct here, meeting participant Kamal Hassan said.

“We don’t trust you,” Hassan told Luger. “That’s why we don’t consider you as partners. We need the money. But we don’t want you dishing out the money.”

Luger defended the FBI. “We don’t set people up,” he said.

Last but not least, there continues to be no sustainable solutions to the slow death of vital remittance networks in the West that Diaspora use to support their families in the Horn of Africa.

There are many moving parts to resolve these issues, including law enforcement, community leaders, financial institutions, and even Somali politicians and popular figures who often travel to the U.S.

But a strong diplomat in Somalia and in the United States would be a huge opportunity for key leadership and engagement that is missing right now — to the detriment of both countries.

Categories: Int'l Community in Somalia

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