United States policy in Somalia

News and Press Release
Originally published
James Swan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
April 21, 2007

Good afternoon, and thank you, for inviting me to join you in Columbus. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss U.S. policy and engagement in Somalia.

As Dr. Ali mentioned, I was assigned for two years to our Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, as the officer responsible for covering developments in Somalia. From 1994-1996, I traveled extensively throughout Somalia, and I saw first-hand what it meant for people to live in the world's foremost example of a failed state.

With no functional government, people couldn't properly educate their children, provide for their families' health, promote economic development, or even provide basic security. So, I have a genuine personal affection for the Somali people and great respect for their enormous resilience in the face of great challenges. So, again, it's a pleasure for me to speak to this group today.


Let me start by briefly outlining U.S. interests in Somalia. These interests have been undermined by Somalia's status as a failed state. Key among U.S. concerns in Somalia are:

First, we have an enduring humanitarian interest in Somalia. Its people have suffered enormously over the past 20 years. The U.S. has contributed more than $550 million in assistance to Somalia since 1993. This has been predominantly food aid. We would like to see a shift toward more development-oriented assistance as political and security conditions permit, but in the meantime, we continue to respond to urgent humanitarian requirements.

Second, we seek improved regional stability by supporting the establishment of effective governance in Somalia. The Transitional Federal Institutions, established in 2004, offer an agreed upon basis for governance. But, as we will see, much more needs to be done to ensure they are truly credible and representative. Sound governance is critical, however, to long-term peace and security in Somalia and to ensuring an environment that permits economic development.

Third, to prevent from Somalia from again becoming a terrorist safe haven. This is not an idle risk. Several suspects in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 and in the 2002 attacks on the hotel in Mombassa subsequently took refuge in Somalia and were harbored by certain extremist elements within the Islamic Court structure. U.S. citizens, as well as many more Africans, were victims of attacks conducted by these terrorist suspects, and we are determined that Somalia not give them, or others like them, safe haven.

For all of the disturbing images of Somalia that we see on TV, the U.S. considers this to be a moment of great opportunity for the Somali people. With the routing of the Islamic Courts Council in January, the extension of the Transitional Federal Government's presence to new areas, and the increased international attention, we believe this is the best opportunity in perhaps 20 years to establish first a functional transitional government in Somalia and then prepare for elections in 2009, as called for by the Transitional Federal Charter.


We are already in a period of transition, of course. The Transitional Federal Government has existed since 2004 but has not attracted the broad-based support it requires to enjoy popular legitimacy. Last year, the Transitional Federal Government faced a severe test from the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC), and I want to say a word about how we saw the rapid expansion and equally rapid decline of that organization.

There has been a new dynamic in the past 18 months. In late 2005, the TFG was dysfunctional and confined to a small area. Mogadishu was in control, partly because of warlords, and partly because of Islamic Courts, some of which were harboring terrorist affiliates.

The CIC emerged from a network of local, largely Mogadishu-based courts, some of which were radical and even harbored terrorist suspects, but others of which were clearly moderate. When the CIC emerged as the dominant force that rallied the courts, the United States remained open-minded about relations with them. Our government had contracts with the senior CIC leadership. We supported the Khartoum based dialogue between the CIC and TFG.

Yet, over time, it became evident that the CIC was increasingly radicalized and provided safe haven for foreign terrorist. While the United States and other international actors supported a process of inclusive dialogue, extremist elements within the CIC - particularly the radical al Shabaab organization - hijacked the Courts, driving the CIC towards an agenda of military expansion and aggression.

Ultimately, the CIC miscalculated in its decision to pursue a military agenda and refuse to join the governance process and the Transitional Federal Institutions through peaceful dialogue and choosing to launch an offensive against Baidoa in early December. When the TFG and Ethiopia launched a counter-offensive against the CIC in late December, the CIC structure disappeared faster than anyone here had anticipated, driven in large part by the withdrawal of support from the Somali population.

Although the CIC no longer exists as an organization, we remain conscious of the threat that remnants of the CIC continue to pose to the ongoing dialogue process. We must move forward with an inclusive political process that will prevent extremist CIC and al Shabaab remnants from regaining a foothold inside Somalia, while simultaneously working to deny CIC remnants a platform that would allow the CIC to reconstitute in another country.

And while the extremist leadership of the al Shabaab can no longer offer a safe haven for foreign terrorists, the United States remains concerned by the continued presence of al-Qaida operatives and their affiliates inside Somalia. Somalia's continued exploitation by terrorist elements threatens the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region.

To advance U.S. interests, the United States has outlined four policy priorities for Somalia. First, encourage inclusive political dialogue among key Somali stakeholders. Second, mobilize international support to help build the governance capacity of the TFIs and provide development and humanitarian assistance for the Somali people. Third, move forward with the deployment of an African Peace Support operation. And fourth, continue our efforts to combat the threat of terrorism and ensure that Somalia cannot serve as a platform for further terrorist operations.


At the Department of State, we believe that political inclusiveness is a critical part of the path to peace, reconciliation, and stability. To a great extent, the success of this transition will rely on the government's willingness to reach out and create an inclusive political process. This objective remains our greatest challenge.

The U.S. supports the establishment of effective governance institutions and encourages reconciliation among key Somali stakeholders. In order for this process to succeed, we must facilitate a resumption of the transition envisioned by the Transitional Federal Charter, this includes drafting a new constitution and preparing for national elections at the end of 2009.

These are critical tasks, and they will require the positive participation of all elements of Somali society, as well as the expertise of the Somali diaspora. For this reason, the U.S. Government has carried out several programs over the last year intended to: engage key stakeholders throughout Somalia, strengthen civil society and democratic institutions, enable the rule of law and local governance, and mitigate conflict.

As the transitional process moves forward, the United States will do all we can to help enhance the TFIs' governance capacity, as well as increase support for efforts to build governance capacity at the local and regional level. This includes mobilizing international support for the International Somalia Contact Group.

The United States Government since January has announced over $40 million in new assistance for Somalia, matching resources to our public comments. And we have requested from Congress an additional $60 million in urgent supplemental funding. We have consistently signaled that the United States intends to remain engaged for the long term in Somalia. Other donor partners have also agreed to identify additional resources for Somalia.

That said, we know that post-conflict institution building requires a supportive political climate. If international donor support is to be effective these resources must be linked to progress made by Somalis in achieving broad-based political dialogue and reconciliation.


The Transitional Federal Charter offers a framework for the remainder of the transitional political process. However, we are aware of the challenges that lay ahead - both in encouraging positive efforts by the TFG leadership and in addressing the continued instability and violence in Mogadishu.

As a crucial component of our strategy in Somalia, the United States is actively supporting the deployment of AMISOM as a means of stabilizing the situation in southern Somalia. An African peace support operational alone cannot produce peace, but it can help create space for internal dialogue.

The full deployment of AMISOM will facilitate a more rapid departure of Ethiopian forces from Somalia. To achieve this objective, the United States is providing technical assistance and funding, approximately $19.6 million, to support the deployment of AMISOM, enabling the mission to provide security to the TFIs and allow the peace process to move forward with the visible support of the international community.

In the end, the Somali people are responsible for implementing local-level security without resorting to the warlordism of the past. The U.S. Government has advised the TFIs to make the development of representative security institutions, including a civilian police force, an immediate priority. Ultimately, the political process should lead to the formation of a unified national military representative of all of Somalia's clans. The stabilization force in Somalia will help provide a secure environment in which a political process can move forward and effective security institutions can be developed.


The key to long-term stability in Somalia now lies in a process of inclusive dialogue and reconciliation within the framework of the Transitional Federal Charter leading to the election of effective, representative governance institutions at the end of the transitional process in 2009.

In order to successfully conclude thistransitional process, there must be political reconciliation and dialogue among all key Somali stakeholders. We have been clear - we see a role in the future of Somalia for all those who renounce violence and extremism, and we strongly believe that the TFIs must reach out to groups that have previously been marginalized from the TFIs and the political process. The TFIs must reach out to key groups inside Somalia, including: clan leaders, business and civil society, women's groups, and religious leaders, among others.

We do not believe that the CIC should be reconstituted as a political entity, but the TFIs should reach out to the diverse range of local, organic courts affiliated with various clans. These groups, particularly those in Mogadishu, must also engage with the TFIs and demonstrate their willingness to be cooperative.

As we look ahead, there is a role for the Somali diaspora too. You can contribute to dialogue, support the National Reconciliation Congress, lend wisdom, raise your voice here in the United States, offering constructive ideas and reaching out to the media, NGOs, and Congress.

Thank you, and now I would be happy to take your questions.