Somalia is, on paper, a
sovereign state. But for the past two decades, beset by
endless civil strife, secessionism, and regionalism, it has
been anything but. The international community has acted as
a de-facto caretaker of Somali affairs in the absence of a
credible central government, with troops from African states
continuing to provide security assistance.
has begun to change. Last year, a new parliament was
convened, ratifying a new constitution and electing Hassan
Sheikh Mohamud as the first president of a permanent Somali
government since the fall of the military government in
1991. And significantly, the recent visit to the United
States by President Mohamud secured the much coveted
recognition of the U.S. government.
With the official
recognition of the Obama administration, many Somalis remain
optimistic that Somalia can be represented by a single
national entity that has the confidence of its public and
represents the interests of its constituents equally. Somali
observers rejoiced on the utterance of the words “sovereign”
and “Somalia” in the same sentence by outgoing U.S.
Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.
17, Clinton officially declared U.S. recognition of Somalia
as a sovereign and equal partner. Restoring bilateral
relations between the two states for the first time in two
decades, Clinton flanked Mohamud and effectively turned a
new page on U.S.-Somalia relations, leaving behind an
ineffective “dual-track” policy that had threatened to
balkanize Somalia along ethnic and regional lines. This
swift policy change, resulting from steady political
progress in Somalia, undeniably uplifted the dampened spirit
of the Somali populace and is largely seen as a gesture of
goodwill on the part of the United States. Backers of the
Somali central government hope the gesture will be echoed by
the United Kingdom, as well as former colonial powers.
An End to Business as Usual
recognition comes responsibility for both the United States
and Somalia. For the United States, dealings with Somalia
cannot remain business as usual.
For the first time
in 20 years, the U.S. government will now have to consult on
all its affairs in Somalia with the legitimately elected and
recognized Somali government, especially regarding America’s
ongoing campaign against al-Shabaab. This means that the
dreaded unmanned drones and spy warplanes that have hovered
over Somali air space with impunity, as well as covert U.S.
ground operations, must be brought to account and approved
by the Somali government.
Only an agreement based on
an honest accounting of U.S. operations in the country can
safeguard the lives of innocent citizens and blunt the
impact of ongoing night raids on the psyche of an already
terrorized society. Other bilateral agreements may concern
securing safe passage for international shipping vessels on
the Somali coast, as well as collaboration on the
re-development of coastal communities to resume their once
prosperous fishing industries, thus eradicating piracy and
other criminal activities from the area.
resumption of diplomatic exchange between Washington and
Mogadishu should allow both the United States and Somalia to
reclaim their respective abandoned properties in Mogadishu
and Washington. This symbolic act will encourage the
estimated 200,000 Somali-Americans living in the United
States who aspire to travel, invest, and do business in both
It should be abundantly clear that
recognition from Western headquarters alone will not be
sufficient to salvage Somalia from its prolonged failed
state status. It must immediately be followed by credible
and measurable progress on all fronts. These fronts include,
first and foremost, progress in the security sector and the
restoration of a viable national army, police, and coast
guard to protect and safeguard national borders and coastal
areas. Sovereign states, the Somali government must be
reminded, are not protected by foreign armies.
the government must initiate an ongoing dialogue with all
Somalis, particularly with self-governing entities such as
Somaliland and Puntland, with the possibility of exchanging
high-level delegations to bring them closer together.
Similarly, the Somali parliament needs to establish clear
guidelines for the establishment of viable and ethnically
diverse regions with full access to the sea. These regions
should be limited in number, with the aim of developing
diverse regions that are politically and economically
In addition, Somali’s corrupt reputation
should be countered with the adoption of strict ethics and
good-government laws, a merit system to ensure the
recruitment of qualified individuals who are fairly
compensated, and the adjudication of all violations of
ethical rules and standards in public service. President
Mohamud should begin by requiring every member of his
government to abide by the tenets of Somali constitution.
Finally, the Somali government must outgrow the capital
city and its environs and become visible throughout the
country. Fair and transparent guidelines establishing
decentralized regional governments and local administrative
authorities must be established to reduce claims and counter
claims of local authorities. Rebuilding national
infrastructure and institutions of good-governance will
assure the international community that Somalia is indeed a
sovereign entity in both word and in deed.
Looming Threat to Sovereignty
Somalia’s impressive strides, if there are no visible signs
of progress in the areas described above, Somalia may slowly
slip back into a failed-state status, regardless of who
recognizes it. The threat to Somalia’s sovereignty looms
large, and it mostly comes from within Somalia rather than
from without. Experts continue to debate whether the U.S.
recognition of Somalia will matter that much given the
realities on the ground.
After 20 years of
lawlessness, the proliferation of an unregulated private
sector threatens the development of a viable public sector
for the country. Successive Somali governments, including
the current one, seem to be reluctant to establish strong
rules and regulations for the blossoming private sector. The
government appears unable or unwilling to counter the
narrative promoted by the self-serving businesses and NGOs
based in Nairobi that the Somali public sector is too
dysfunctional to engage in meaningful business transactions.
Sprawling private-sector industries include but are not
limited to the airline industry, telecommunications, banks
and remittance organizations, universities, hospitals and
health clinics, and local schools. A nascent yet flourishing
real estate industry is tapping into the financial largesse
of those returning from the Diaspora promising huge returns
on investments thanks to the unregulated Somali economy.
The Somali government must not shy away from promoting
the establishment of a strong public sector alongside a well
regulated private sector if Somalia is to create an economy
suitable for a functioning sovereign state.
recognition of Somalia elevates Somalia’s potential to move
away from its failed-state status of the past two decades,
but Somalia must play the part of a sovereign state to
affirm its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Abdinur Mohamud is a former Somali minister of education
and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He now
works and lives in Westerville, Ohio.
contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and it does not represent the
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