Why we should keep out of Somalia’s affairs
August 2nd, 2013
11:46 AM ET

Why we should keep out of Somalia’s affairs

By Michael Shank, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.

Last weekend, in response to a deadly attack on the Turkish embassy in Somalia that killed three and wounded nine, the U.S. government responded by saying that, “this cowardly act will not shake our commitment to continue working for the brighter, more democratic and prosperous future the people of Somalia deserve.”

The statement followed not one bombing in Somalia, but two. This past Saturday’s bombing was the second in under a week; a few days prior, a bomb blew up in a lawmaker’s car, killing one.

But while such a positive American response is assuredly better than The Economist’s this summer, which described Somalia as “a byword for conflict, poverty and ungovernability,” it is still riddled with problems. Indeed, ironically, it is exactly this kind of U.S. government-issued statement that fuels the sort of resentment that ultimately leads to more bombings. The U.S. State Department, and the Defense Department for that matter, have never been in the business of working effectively for a brighter, more democratic and prosperous future for the people of Somalia. Their legacy heralds quite the opposite, in fact.

Beyond the $1.5 billion provided in U.S. security assistance since 2009, and the myriad air strikes that America has rained down on Somalia, the U.S. has created an untenable aid situation where any association with rebel group Al-Shabaab, however remote, is illegal. Never mind the fact that much of Somalia is in dire straits and that Al-Shabaab, organizationally speaking, is fluid and amorphous. This makes basic support for many Somalis next to impossible.

More from CNN: Help Somalia fight roots of piracy

Useful American support is still possible, but is currently being implemented through top-down, government channels.  Even as last week’s bombings occurred, round two of the New Deal donor conference, which will commit Somalia and its international partners to a three-year reconstruction plan, was taking place.

In a keynote speech last month, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said that the New Deal is critical in bringing Somalia out of “its fragile situation.” Certainly, the president should know something about peacebuilding, having attended summer coursework at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. And such remarks are more positive than those by African Union Special Representative for Somalia Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who said “we must intensify military operations that have unfortunately slowed down for a while now.”

Still, the fact is that Somalia needs help building its institutions, developing economically, and improving its legal and security infrastructure. In all the years that the West – America or Britain – aided and abetted war efforts in Somalia, very little money, time or skill was spent on building capacity in the country.  Indeed, any capacity building was always undertaken primarily through an interlocutor, be it the African Union, or worse, a neighboring country like Ethiopia or Kenya.

This practice must stop. We must prevent not encourage neighbors preying upon Somalia’s affairs. That Ethiopian troops are still sticking around in parts of Somalia is unacceptable. Discussions last month for an eventual departure were insufficient.  They need to leave. Similarly, the African Union Mission of Somalia also needs an exit strategy, something that will only be possible after Somali security forces are properly trained.  Only Somalia can secure Somalia’s future. Ethiopian intervention has only ever exacerbated the problem of violence.

Next week I travel to Somalia. After writing for years about this country – from the devastating stories about the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, and her misguided policies for the Horn, to stories about the Defense Department’s random and indiscriminate air strikes on southern Somalia – I wanted to finally see for myself the counter-productive consequences of our counter-terrorism policies.

Somalia can stand tall in spite of countless interventions by neighbors near and far. Perhaps the best byword for Somalia is “resilience,” a trait that is essential as the country looks toward a new dawn.

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Topics: Africa • Security • Somalia • United States

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. John

    Why don't you write: 'S. Korea' on the cans - that's going to be certainly more accurate.

    August 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  2. Benedict

    Wouldn't want "Black Hawk II",would we?!!.

    August 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  3. Abdi

    Well done Miks. I entirly agree with your unbiased prespective not only as Somali but also as an old UN hand. Your critics on the role of neibhouring countries and how they brutulally and unhumanly mess up the Somali situation warrants universal whistleblower.

    August 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • deq

      I agree! Thank you Mr.Shank. Somali people are at the best yet still uncertain time, of the past 20 yrs. Neighboring countries that receive their fuel from competing interests(i.e UN, US, EU,Gulf Countries etc). Take for example what Kenya, whom the US congress cut aid to, is wearing AU uniform and causing havoc in Kismayo, Jubbaland and the UN cuts the paycheck, which the US,EU, S.ARABIA are a major contributor. Left alone we can manage our problems. But when you are small playing field for world powers and their puppet regimes, its tough to get up.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:09 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        The key players in Somalia are the UN mission and its troops, Kenya, Ethiopia and the AMISOM forces. The US seems to keep a low-profile there.
        The decades of fighting between rival warlords had divided Somalia into a de-facto independent north and a south still partly controlled by the al-Shabab Islamist militia. After years of anarchy the country a president took office last year. He is trying to reunite the Somalia and bring reconciliation to a country divided into clan fiefdoms.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  4. George patton

    In fact, we need to stay out of the affairs of every country for that matter Michael. Our needless interfering in the affairs of other countries only breeds more and more resentment towards us. How would we Americans feel if Russia interfered with our internal affairs? Will anyone here answer that? Besides, our interfering is immoral too.

    August 2, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  5. lulu

    But USA is always involved in somali affairs.Even that turkish attack was a work of US/Israeli&Somalis have evidence.By Giving all War Criminals asylum,USA has declared war against any peace aroud the world.

    August 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  6. FOWSIYA

    American people need to know the truth. Somalis want to be in charge their destiny and be respected their sovereignty.
    Somalis have government now they should be supported not hindered, This is what peace loving Somalis want just like any other nation. Using Ethiopia and Kenya BAD IDEA.

    August 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  7. Abdi Adam

    Somalia is for Somalis, anything else is abuse of power!!!

    August 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  8. Abdi

    Tell Obama brothers (Kenya) leave us alone in Somalia...!

    August 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  9. TruthBeTold

    Mike Shank..You hit it rigt on the nail and it's long over due that US government stops interferring in Somalies affairs. The interferrence of neighboring countries using terrorism as an excuse accomplished nothing but exacerbated the country's sociopolitical and economic situation to the worst. Your observation and assessment on Jendaye Frazer's disasterous role in the Horn of Africa is undeniable. The unfortunate thing is that, this been the case the country that fiercly opposed foreign interferences in Somalia and one that maintained that Somalies should be allowed to sort out their problems themselves was not only rediculed by pretty much everyone, but was condemned and slapped with not one but two UN sanctions. The country in reference is of course Eritrea, an East African country.
    One can only hope that the new Somalia government will be more inclusive and not allow foreign governments interfering in the country's affairs as it restructures the Somalies future sociopolitical status.

    August 3, 2013 at 12:10 am | Reply
  10. danielll

    I think you are ignorant and racist. You should know that Ethiopia and Kenya want a stable Somalia because they want a responsible government that can protect its borders from terrorist. Before Ethiopia and Kenya sent their troops to Somalia, terrorist in Somalia declared jihad on both countries.

    Do you know why American troops in Afghanistan? If you don't know they are their to protect your peace. So, why Kenya and Ethiopia should watch terrorist from next door killing their citizens. Who knows? you may say its OK if Africans die by terrorist attacks.

    August 3, 2013 at 1:58 am | Reply
    • TruthBeTold

      Fact : Before Ethiopia and Kenya sent their troops to Somalià in 2006 and thereafter, the country was making major strides in improving the people's socioeconomic status. For the first time in fifteen years Somali refugees were returning to their home and business was booming. That's not to say that there didn't exist few elements with extremist views. But to say and go as far as claim that they were a threat to the security of neighbouring countries is flat out lie. Because of the yet to be resolved Ogaden issue Somalia and Ethiopia have not been in good terms. The general sentiment is that for Ethiopia the war on terror Washington was waging against Alquida was a blessing in disguise in its long held plan to destabilze Somalia. As for Washington Administration, it was the best opportunity to "settle the score " and had Ethiopia "America's most important alie " more than willing to do the job. The rest is history.

      August 3, 2013 at 2:54 am | Reply
    • Dualeh

      Only fools believe invading neighbours will provide security.
      Neither Ethiopia nor Kenya should have never invaded Somalia nor should the international community EVER !!! funded or tollerated this illegal and criminal act of agression!.

      The terrorist organizations dismembering the somali nation ARE!!! the eneemies and of a real thret to Somalia and the somali people MUCH MUCH MORE than they are to the neighbouring countries or to the rest of the International community which in fact arm and fund them!.

      So, Mr Daniel or whoever You might be, Your contribution here proves one THING AND ONE THING and only:
      YOUR IGNORANCE!!!.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:12 am | Reply
    • Peace

      Daniel, how do you like all those comments? It appears you are alone ohh one more thing, tell The Ethiopian Government to fight no one is stopping you. We are asking no more American Taxi Money. Can you get that?

      August 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  11. Abdull

    Hey Jason!
    Since you been writing about Somalia for long time, take your time and visit all the Somali regions including Southern Somalia, Puntland, Somaliland.

    August 3, 2013 at 3:43 am | Reply
  12. Puntlander

    The problem of Somalia is Mogadishu. Even if foreign troops leave tomorrow no guarantees Mogadishu's behaviour will change. Corruption, extremism, and violence is the day order there. Other people's properties are occupied, Food Aid is looted, IDPs (Somalis) are gated by powerful aid lords to collect food on their head.
    Even the current President came to power through corruption. So, until Mogadishu clan changes their corrupted behaviour, we need intervention, Ethiopia and Kenya. Mogadishu is the home of Alshabab extremist.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:59 am | Reply
    • Jimmy

      Get clue of the article, and comment it..!

      August 4, 2013 at 12:58 am | Reply
      • Dualeh. B

        Agree... Read the article before commenting on it.

        August 6, 2013 at 2:09 am |
    • Ali

      You are right ma brother, the problem is Mogadishu, but let me ask you this without foreign interference specially those the at the boarder you think silly name like Puntland or Somaliland would exist?

      August 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  13. billow

    Kenya and Ethiopia are Somalis are enemies because all of them sitting are sitting on somali regions . somalis thank USA but they should avoid coming through Kenya and Ethiopia . the earlier the better a full arms embargo to be lifted because somalis need to protect their land both from terrorist and greedy neighbors .

    August 3, 2013 at 9:27 am | Reply
  14. Jim

    Welcome, Mr Shanks, when you make your first visit. You should have made many visits before you began to expound on what is good for Somalis. Your view is unrealistic because (1) if the West absconds from Somalia proper, the radical Islamists will be back where they were a half dozen years ago, well armed and threatening to take the Jihad to Addis and all of East Africa, and (2) you seem not to understand the internal disagreements in Somalia on the many levels that the disagreements make your assessment so shallow. What is your view of the secessionist region, Somaliland? An unfettered Central Government would begin another genocide against the Northwest Somalis based on the argument that the Northwesterners are "traitors and rebels." Listen to President Hassan's recent statements on this issue. What are your views on the compensation owing to the Rahanweyn for the farmland, equipment and lives lost during the turmoil since 1991? How do you recommend the Darood/Hawiye differences be settled? Leaving them alone didn't work in the past. I welcome you again to visit Somalia. I would include a stop in Garowe, one in Hargeisa, one in Kismayu, and one in Baidoa for openers. Then see if your simplistic solution of "leave them alone" makes sense. Somalia, domestically, needs a Marshall Plan. There is none forthcoming. Everything from the outside is window dressing on a "counter-terrorism campaign" run under the guise of "helping the Somalis to help themselves."

    August 3, 2013 at 10:39 am | Reply
    • Erigo

      Jim, you make some valid arguments and you clearly know and care about the place. However the current form of western involvement is probably the most harmful of all possible interactions. It is neither committed and large enough to make a strategic impact nor benign enouh to give Somalis ownership of their problems and deal with it by themselves.

      What we know is that when Somalis are left to their own devices, they are capable of unimaginable brutalities like those inflicted by Aideed on the Rahanwein and others in the 1990s and siyad Barre on somaliland in the late 80s. We also know they can get together and fall back on their own conflict resultion mechanisms. Puntland did exacly that. so did Somaliland. And to lesser but no less significant extent so did the South under Islamic courts.

      All the available eveidence from the ground demonstrates that the more foreigners get involved(US, Britain, Ethiopia even little Djibouti) the more complex and intractabel the problem gets. At least trying out a 'hands-off' period frome the West is worth the effort.

      August 4, 2013 at 10:07 am | Reply
    • Moha

      Jim Shut up.. You don’t know nothing about Somalia

      November 9, 2013 at 4:23 am | Reply
  15. Erigo

    The US and British money and interference are actually fuelling the civil war, enccouraging corruption and stiffling locally-owned conflict resolution processes. Every Somali knows that Al-Shabab could never be defeated militarily by the US paid for Ugandan and Kenyan troops. The only viable solution si talking to them. But given the unequivical and unquestioning American support and qwhat oen aid worker described as ';tsunami' of money from the US and Gulf Arab states, the Somali governemnt leaders are in no mood for compromise.

    Somalia will not stand a chance for peace and reconciliation as long as US and Britain continue pursuing therir misguided policies.

    August 3, 2013 at 10:39 am | Reply
    • George patton

      Quite true Erigo, quite true indeed. You nailed it good!

      August 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  16. mohamed ali

    The US aggressive policy is not helpful to anyone, but it breeds hatred and radicalization. so let Somali people decide their future and destination because our interests and goals are not like yours. free Somalia.prosperous Somalia

    August 4, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
  17. luckymes

    The root of the problem of Somalia is Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland are two Staes that have their own governments and security. There is no war there and people mind their business whie there are daily assasinations and bombings in Mogadishu every day. Mr. shank hardly knows the psyche of those people in Mogadishu, it is AMISOM which takes care of the little peace in the city, but if they leave, I guarantee there will be an out all war in Mogadishu which will engulf all of South and central Somalia.

    August 4, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  18. abdi jama

    i am Somali national, those Somalis who always blame the foreign interventionist why they could not solve their after the Americans and un left Somalia since 1993 , Somalia became failed state and land of warlords from 1993 until 2005 during that period no american or Ethiopian or Kenyan intervention existed but the Islamic extremist were building their power base in lawless country and turned Somalia where al-qeida planed US embassy bombing in Nairobi and Dara-salaam in 1999 from Mogadishu and southern Somalia,those Somalis who blame foreigner intervention are trying to pretend nationalistic but are only defending tribal interest not somali as we are all somalis tribalistic people ask any punt-lander about Ethiopian intervention in Somalia they will say that was right decision because abdulahi yusuf was from punt land ask any hawiye and marehan even if their atheist they were supporting Islamic radicals because only of tribal sentiment not nationlistic gaols now today if foreign troops leave today from Somalia ,somalia will became terrorist haven which will threaten ethopia ,kenya and american interest in the region and al shabab will over run south somalia within few days not weeks cause somali goverment is protected by amisom forces ,the international community shouldn't abbunden poor somalia to islamic extremist forces ,ethopia and kenyans should stay till somalis can defeat forces of darkness al shabab affliated al-qeida

    August 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  19. Mohamed

    Keep is doing good job in Jubaland and Kismanyu and for the first time its free of warloads and terrorist. We jubalanders thank Kenya Government in their effort to stabilize jubaland and somalia in general. Jubaland has never seen peace it was constantly under warloads that invaded from far land and who are not the real inhabitants of juba and the terrorists alshabaab. We thank all Amisom forces and Ethiopia.

    August 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  20. Mohamed Abdi

    Thank you so much Michael Shank for speaking out for the somali people.

    Kenya is becoming a real thorn for the new found peace in Somalia. Why doesn't the west tell the Kenyans to stop killing Somali people and to get the hell out of Somalia.

    The Somali government is doing its best to move Somalia forward and to interact with the international community but Kenya is doing all it can to undermine Somalia's stability.

    Thank you so much Michael Shank

    August 17, 2013 at 2:35 am | Reply
  21. ahmed

    abdi jama
    i am Somali national, those Somalis who always blame the foreign interventionist why they could not solve their after the Americans and un left Somalia since 1993 , Somalia became failed state and land of warlords from 1993 until 2005 during that period no american or Ethiopian or Kenyan intervention existed but the Islamic extremist were building their power base in lawless country and turned Somalia where al-qeida planed US embassy bombing in Nairobi and Dara-salaam in 1999 from Mogadishu and southern Somalia,those Somalis who blame foreigner intervention are trying to pretend nationalistic but are only defending tribal interest not somali as we are all somalis tribalistic people ask any punt-lander about Ethiopian intervention in Somalia they will say that was right decision because abdulahi yusuf was from punt land ask any hawiye and marehan even if their atheist they were supporting Islamic radicals because only of tribal sentiment not nationlistic gaols now today if foreign troops leave today from Somalia ,somalia will became terrorist haven which will threaten ethopia ,kenya and american interest in the region and al shabab will over run south somalia within few days not weeks cause somali goverment is protected by amisom forces ,the international community shouldn't abbunden poor somalia to islamic extremist forces ,ethopia and kenyans should stay till somalis can defeat forces of darkness al shabab affliated al-qeida

    Right on the mark, could not say better
    thank you.

    August 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  22. Trey Maxmad

    The above article is the real picture in somaliia, he is really telling the truth about Somalia and I"m a nationalist and I agree with Micheal Shank.

    Who ever did agree with Micheal Shank and the Somali people's feelings is a enemy of Somalia, who ever has a better idea should lay so, otherwise gus laq.

    I pray and ask Allah to make peace between these Muslims within a county and feed they food of halal.

    O Allah forgive our sins and clannish behaviour and Only you can judge who's wrong and write.

    Theses Somalis replying will always did each other and that's how they are in Somalia too:- O Allah, clean our hearts and we ask a shelter from enemy

    August 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  23. CJ

    I disagree with Shank's simplistic scenario. The West has security interests – namely, freedom from fear and mayhem – in a peaceful and prosperous Somalia but this land can't seem to survive on its own – it is a failed nation-state and a breeding ground for disease, poverty, starvation and the most horrific brutality. Innocents would be casually butchered like animals. Leave them to themselves? Their is no "self" there.

    September 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Reply

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