Barack Obama’s decision to appoint the US’s first ambassador to Somalia since the Black Hawk Down incident more than 20 years ago shows that better times are ahead for the war-torn nation. Somalia has been fighting two battles all these years. First and most serious, the internal battle with terrorists, with the government in Mogadishu spending all its energies on defeating Al Shabab which could never be defeated in a true sense, and second, the international isolation, with several governments shunning this Horn of Africa nation, being too unsafe and unstable to do business with. The restart of relations with the United States provides an opportunity to Somalia to focus on gaining more international acceptance and getting their help in the fight against terrorism and in rebuilding its shattered economy.
Wendy Sherman, the American under-secretary of state for political affairs, said Somalia had become ‘a synonym for chaos’ but there were hopeful signs of improvement in security and the economy. That’s a correct assessment of the situation on the ground. The US decision will further boost the confidence of Somali government and deal a blow to extremists. “As a reflection both of our deepening relationship with the country and of our faith that better times are ahead, the president will propose the first US ambassador to Somalia in more than two decades,” she told the US Institute of Peace thinktank in Washington.
The US was forced to leave Somalia in an ignominious state. In 1993, the Battle of Mogadishu was the deadliest firefight involving US forces since Vietnam. Somali fighters shot down two US helicopters, killing 18 Americans and injured 73. The 15-hour battle ultimately resulted in a withdrawal of US troops from the country, which descended into two decades of anarchy and extremism.
Last year, Britain became the first EU state to reopen its embassy in Somalia, with staff living inside the capital’s fortified airport compound. Now that the US too is sending an ambassador, other countries which don’t have envoys in Mogadishu need to follow suit. Somalia has made considerable progress in its struggle for peace and stability, and this progress should not be ignored. Restoring normal relations is one way to help strengthen the hands of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. In fact, western diplomats began increasing ties with Mogadishu after Sheikh Mohamud was elected president in September 2012.
The challenges ahead are huge for the Somali government. Al Shabab is still able to mount complex attacks and has frequently targeted the UN-backed parliament. Two weeks ago, they attacked the country’s parliament in Mogadishu, leaving at least 10 people dead. But it’s a weakened outfit, having been pushed out of major cities in 2011 and 2012.