Is there US Policy in Somalia? That is the question many are asking. However, besides President Trump’s “shithole” utterance, there is a unanimity that the US State Department does not have a coherent policy towards Africa in general and Somalia in particular.
As many US State Department, Foreign Services Bureau offices remain empty due to budget reduction or utter neglect, policymaking is largely left to Ambassadors.
In the case of Somalia, three unrelated arms of the Trump administration run discordant Somalia affairs. Pentagon caries expensive low yielding sorties against Al-Shabaab. The rest of Somalia’s security is delegated to neighboring countries, primarily to Ethiopia. Second, USAID does an unimpressive aid work and has almost no presence in the Somalia Theater.
Whatever is left of Somalia engagement is thrown into the “tiny hands,”to borrow words President Trump used against Senator Rubio during the Republican primaries, of Ambassador Yamamoto, and at that, the good ambassador is doing poorly.
He has lost diplomatic acumen, does not seem to apply best practices and earned for America the scorn of otherwise well-wishing opposition groups. That is why the umbrella of 6 opposition parties denounced Ambassador Yamamoto’s hasty decision to unilaterally recognize the president of one of the most troubled regions in Somalia – Galmudug. He did so by ignoring other stakeholders, one of which is current President, Mr. Haff, and the leader of a Sufi group that defeated Al-Shahab and ejected all terror groups from the region.
The good Ambassador’s behavior in Somalia reminds one novels written by John le carre’ in the 1970s or Hemingway’s days of the Caribbean, where the US Ambassadors in those days got involved too much in host countries’ affairs, and only maintained relations with spies and government ministers.
But as the US evolved, especially after Jimmy Carter humanized US foreign policy, that chapter was a bygone phenomenon until now, the ultimate result of which could be local people losing faith in America.
Within a short period of time, Mr. Yamamoto has alienated all opposition groups In Somalia.. In the past, American diplomacy had a tradition of bringing in or even advocating for opposition stakeholders. Contrary to that noble practice, Yamamoto took American diplomacy in Somalia back to the days when Russian diplomats were embedded in the state houses of little dictators.
In the Somalia case, Ambassador Yamamoto is nurturing and enabling a regime that wants to be an autocrat. Such an uncouth relationship between a US Ambassador and an evolving wan-b-autocratic is the consequence of a state department that is in disrepair.