US Welcomes Somalia’s New President

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

Two decades since the embarrassing Black Hawk Down incident, the United States is opening a new chapter with Somalia.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the newly elected leader of Somalia, met with Obama and Clinton in separate meetings late last week. The meeting was accompanied by official U.S. recognition of the government in Somalia — the first time since 1991.

“The people and leaders of Somalia have fought and sacrificed to bring greater stability, security, and peace to their nation,” Secretary of State Clinton said at the event.

President Obama used his time with President Mohamud to congratulate the leader on his September electoral victory, and for the major security gains Somalia has made over the past year by beating back the al Shabaab militants.

Obama “acknowledged the many challenges facing Somalia but expressed optimism about Somalia’s future, and reaffirmed his commitment to work in partnership with the new Somali government to promote peace and security, improve fiscal management, and increase the provision of social services,” said the press release from the meeting.

US investments in stabilizing Somalia go back a few decades with a particular interest as of late due to the emergence of Al Shabaab. In fact, the United States has spent some $1.4 billion, according to Clinton, in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) force.

The election of Mohamud is evidence of a nation slowly getting better.Recent reports from the capital of Mogadishu have begun to focus on a city that is rebuilding, rather than one at war.

Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times in April on examples of improvement in the capital city. The GlobalPost went a step further in August with a package report from Tristan McConnell that featured a series of reports on the return of safety to Mogadishu.The reportedly improved situation in Somalia and the current act by the White House opens relations between the US and Somalia that can materialize in aid and investments to the country. Aid has already been provided to Somalia in the past, but the formal recognition opens new possibilities.

“The fact that we recognize a government there will allow us to do things through USAID that we have not been able to do before,” explained a Senior State Department Offical. “The fact that we recognize them as a legitimate government will allow the World Bank and the IMF to do things that they would not have been able to do before. This is major and it’s significant.” Access to loans from the major banks will mean greater investments in the progress of the government.

Mohamud’s tour included a stop by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to talk about governance and the country’s direction and a trip to Minnesota. The Minneapolis area is home to a significant number of members of the Somali diaspora. Alex Thurston remarked on the trend of Somali leaders to travel to Minneapolis.

I am aware, in the abstract, that large-scale diasporas are reshaping our world and transforming notions of community and nation. But this emerging tradition of Somali presidents making official visits to Minneapolis makes that trend particularly vivid. In a legal sense, no part of Minnesota is part of Somalia. But in an existential sense, an important part of Hassan Sheikh’s country is in Minnesota. I would be very surprised if this is the last trip a sitting Somali president makes there.

Semhar Aria, founder of the Diaspora African Women’s Network, attended and live-tweeted the event in Minneapolis. Rep Keith Ellison delivered the welcoming remarks to some 5,000 people in attendance at the Minneapolis Convention Center. “Somalia needs you right here in America to stand up for the US-Somalia relationship,” said Rep Ellison. “Just like it’s OK for Irish-Americans to stand for US-Ireland relations, it’s OK for you to stand up for stronger US-Somalia relations.”

Mohamud used his time to talk about the strengthening of institutions in Somalia and peace by beating al Shabaab. He remarked that a peaceful Somalia was within reach. All was to point towards an improved country that will continue to grow and add jobs for its citizens and those who left to flee the civil war. With the recognition by the US, it is now an important time to watch the continued progress of Somalia.

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About Author

Aid/Development Beat Reporter Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom found and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.