The relationship between the United States and Somalia was always far from ideal. In fact, it was characterized by disrespect, hypocrisy, massacres, letdowns and open backstabbing, especially by Washington that consistently refused to come to the aid of the Somali nation at its hour of need and instead sided with Addis Ababa and Nairobi.
Washington didn’t ever conceal its opposition to a strong Somalia that can reclaim its territories occupied by Ethiopia and Kenya.
Since the fall of the last central government, the United States has supported everything but peace in Somalia. It aided Ethiopia’s bloody invasion and two-year occupation that killed tens of thousands of civilians with complete impunity.
Before that, Washington generously funded predatory warlords who terrorized Mogadishu residents for more than a decade. When angry citizens ousted those criminals to restore peace to the capital, Washington snuffed out that peace by labeling moderate Islamists as terrorists to plunge the country once again into chaos.
History attests to the fact that the United States always undermined the Somali nation, even when Mogadishu had seemingly good ties with Washington.
Many observers, including Americans, believe that the U.S. government’s decision to abruptly cut off economic and military support to late President Mohamed Siyad Barre had precipitated his fall and the subsequent collapse of the Somali state.
“If we had pulled out earlier, there would have been more prospects for an orderly transition. We didn’t pull out at the right time, and we did it in a way that exacerbated the problem,” Michael Clough, a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who visited Somalia before Ethiopian-backed warlords overthrew Barre, told The Washington Post on October 1992.
Now, the United States is trying to anesthetize Somalis to make them forget its unsavory past and its current illegal actions in their resources-rich nation and start over.
In a speech to Somali-Americans in Minnesota last year, Donald Yukio Yamamoto, the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, said that his country had now realized the importance of Somalia because “Somalia is critical. We see hope in Somalia.”
“We see hope. Why? Because Somalia is a critical area that if we don’t do something now, that’s going to be a challenge for the future,” he said. “We need to have Somalia be a part of the future – not a part of the past.
“So don’t talk about the past, but talk about the future,” he said.
In Somalia, however, the past and present are exceedingly interwoven. And Somalis are not suffering from collective amnesia to lose sight of the existential danger the U.S. is posing to their nation. Uncle Sam’s tawdry past can’t be effaced, just like that.
In November 1977, when the Somali government broke off diplomatic ties with Cuba and expelled Soviet experts from the country and terminated Moscow’s use of strategic bases in Berbera, Beladogle and Kismayo in the hope of joining the Western bloc and getting its support, Washington let down Somalia.
“I thought that, that Somalia should not be permitted to succeed and try to take Ethiopian territory and I refused to give the Somali government any weapons,” said President Jimmy Carter, showing his displeasure at Somalia’s ability to retake the Ogaden region with lightning speed.
The U.S.’s decision came even after Addis Ababa ended its dependency on the U.S. for its military needs and pivoted toward the Soviets.
Unlike Somalia’s gamble, Ethiopia’s bet paid off, big: Moscow and its allies, including Cuba, North Korea, South Yemen and Libya, came to Addis Ababa’s rescue during the 1977 Ogaden war, cosseting Ethiopians with the decisive military support it needed to reverse Somalia’s initial success on the battlefield and swing the momentum back in its favor.
Ghosts of U.S.’s past
In April 1946, the U.S. along with France and the Soviet Union rejected a British proposal to unify all Somali territories in East Africa under its control into one. Washington also openly supported Ethiopians during the brief 1964 war between Somalia and Ethiopia over the Ogaden region and tried to dissuade Mogadishu from supporting the territory’s freedom fighters, whose struggle Washington considered illegitimate.
When Somali Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmake visited Washington on Nov. 27, 1962, and met with the U.S. President John F. Kennedy to ask for a military aid, Kennedy’s main concern was about Somalia using such weapons against Ethiopia and Kenya.
Although Washington finally supplied some limited types of weapons to Somalia, it had kept Ethiopia posted about the matter, while demanding Somalia not to approach the Soviet Union or China for military assistance.
During Sharmake’s visit in Washington, for instance, a memorandum from Robert Komer of the National Security Council staff to President Kennedy on March 21, 1963 argued that the “best line may be to dampen Somali irredentist hopes and convince Somalis their best bet is cooperation in some sort of East African federation.” Komer warned that if the Somali region in Kenya joins the Somali Republic, it would set a “bad precedent in rest of Africa, and Ethiopians will violently oppose it.”
Komer was not the last official to suggest federalism to end Somalis’ ambition to retake its occupied territories to create one greater Somalia.
According to evidence now unveiled by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, former U.S. Ambassador James Keough Bishop delivered a speech on “Federalism and the Horn of Africa” in Mogadishu on Dec. 17, 1990 and shared copies of the speech with several Somali elites who signed the May Manifesto that called for President Barre’s resignation and installment of a transitional government until new elections were held.
Bishop’s aim was, perhaps, to put out feelers about the federal system and see if Somalis would accept it. But, to his shock, all the Somalis, who attended his luncheon a day later, “seemed to equate federalism with partition, which they do not want for Somalia,” according to a cable he filed to Washington on Dec. 18.
Almost 10 years later, the Obama administration literally killed the Somali nation after it adopted the dumb “dual track” policy, whose only objective was to delegitimize the central government and legitimize titular clan-inspired statelets, all of which were keen to grab Washington’s attention to get its largesse. The outlandish strategy came several years after popular uprisings spearheaded by the Union of Islamic Courts uprooted C.I.A.-funded warlords who divided the nation into fiefdoms.
U.S.’s partiality to Somali foes
The U.S. can’t pretend to be an honest partner when it always favors Ethiopia and Kenya over Somalia. An honest partner doesn’t take sides.
“Ethiopia is a strong partner with the United States,” said President Barack Obama during his 2015 visit to Ethiopia. Last year, President Donald Trump and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya “resolved to elevate” the relationship between their two countries to “a Strategic Partnership.”
This open bias, which greatly worries Somalis, started a long time ago.
On Aug. 26, 1963, the director of the U.S.’s office of Northern African Affairs sent a memorandum titled “U.S. Policy Toward the Ogaden” to the then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in which he parroted Ethiopia’s view that Somalia is a threat to Addis Ababa, despite the fact that Ethiopia occupied a Somali region.
“Basically, many leading Ethiopians undoubtedly see in the existence of a Somali Republic, as weak as it may be, a latent threat to the security of the Ethiopian Empire,” wrote the unidentified director. “Many Ethiopians undoubtedly see the elimination of an independent Somalia as the ultimate solution of the Ogaden problem.”
It’s only when Somalia distanced itself from Washington that Mogadishu succeeded in building up its army with the help of the Soviet Union.
In 1963, the Somali government disregarded a Western military aid offer of $10 million and went for the larger, unconditional offer from the Soviet Union of $30 million, which included building the Somali Air Force and expanding the army from 4,000 to 20,000. Moscow also gave six MiG-15s, 20 Yak Us, and 20 MiG-17s to Somalia. The West — particularly the United States, Western Germany and Italy — offered to train an army of only 5000 to 6000 whose duty was focused on the nation’s internal security.
Ironically, history repeated itself in 2017, when, during the 2017 London Conference, the West blackjacked Somalia into signing a Security Pact that pegged its army’s number at 18,000, in a veiled – if vindictive — attempt to turn the clock back to the 1960s.
For perspective, a month after Somalia gained its independence in July 1960, Addis Ababa and Washington inked a secret agreement stipulating that the U.S. train and equip 40,000-strong Ethiopian army and furnish the Ethiopian Air Force with T-28s, F-37s and F-86s. In a 1953 U.S.-Ethiopian military treaty, Washington agreed to lay the foundation for Ethiopia’s future army by training and equipping 18,000 Ethiopians in exchange for a 25-year lease on the Kagnew station in Asmara, Eritrea, which the U.S. used as a listening post to snoop on Africa, the Middle East and the Soviet Union during the cold war.
The U.S. also gave Ethiopia approximately $279 million in military aid and trained more than 3,500 Ethiopian military personnel in its country between 1953 and 1977. It also, between 1957 and 1960, gave nearly $30 million in military aid to Addis Ababa to help it arm 28,000 of its soldiers, buy coastal patrol vessels for its navy and conduct a survey to identify the needs of the Ethiopian Air force.
Since 1997, when he became the U.S’s interim Ambassador to Eritrea, Yamamoto has influenced Washington’s policy in the region, albeit decidedly negatively. It’s, therefore, unlikely that President Donald Trump, who’s known for his dislike for not only Somalis, but also for all black Africans, demoted Yamamoto from his former position as the acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, to give impetus to the ongoing efforts to stabilize Somalia.
President Trump, whose policy on Africa is to “put the interests of the American People first, both at home and abroad,” has already banned Somalis from entering the United States.
“We will make certain that ALL aid to the region — whether for security, humanitarian, or development needs — advances these U.S. interests,” said National Security Advisor Ambassador John R. Bolton on Dec. 13, 2018, when he delivered the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy at the Heritage Foundation.
Straining at a gnat
It’s sad that the U.S.’s policy on Somalia didn’t change much since the collapse of Somalia’s last strong government. For Washington, stability in Somalia is not a top priority. It would rather build an illogical military base in Baledogle to host hundreds of American troops than help the Somali government build its army to rid the country of al Shabab criminals. It’s a typical U.S. policy that always strains at a gnat and swallows a Somali camel.
On Jan. 26, the Foreign Policy Magazine reported that the U.S. Defense Department is “in the early stages” of a plan to link its Djibouti base, Lemonnier, to Baledogle, where it doesn’t have any official lease to use.
The US is taking advantage of Somalia’s lawlessness to set up shop in every region without the consent of the Somali people or the approval of parliament. Sadly the failing Executive has of late become an enabler of foreign interferences to try to remain relevant.
Many Somalis are flabbergasted by Washington’s insensitivity to the suffering of ordinary Somalis who’re pining for a functioning government that can provide them with basic services. Somalis are flummoxed by America’s narrow focus on disruptive policies that only compound their misery.
Since 2013, when Washington announced its decision to recognize the Somali government, U.S. officials have been sending mixed signals. In his statement to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Aug. 23, 2018, Yamamoto said he was committed to helping Somalia build democratic institutions and governance structures and implement stabilization and economic recovery programs.
Months later on Dec. 4, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert echoed the same, saying Washington is committed to advancing Somalia’s “stability, democracy, and economic development that are in the interest of both nations.”
Although Washington opened its first permanent diplomatic mission in the country since 1991, yet it knows too well that having an office in the highly-protected area of Halane complex when the rest of Mogadishu is unsafe will do very little in the bigger push to end lawlessness and create an effective Somali government that is capable of exerting its control across the country.
Big fat lies
Washington has always shamelessly lied to Somalis.
In 2013, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and declared: “Today is a milestone. It is not the end of the journey, but it is an important milestone toward that end.”
But since then, the U.S.’s main contribution to Somalia’s security is the establishment of anti-terror Special Forces, who are more or less hired guns for Washington’s clandestine and mostly extra-judicial operations inside the country. The U.S. has intensified its drone attacks on shadowy elements of al Shabab, killing hundreds of them, but the group remains as lethal as it was in 2007, when it was officially formed.
There’s virtually no accountability for the U.S.’s sadistic aerial strikes and secret operations in Somalia. In most cases, no one knows the identities of those targeted. The U.S. Africa Command, which gleefully announces the details of the drones’ killings, doesn’t bother to say who was actually killed, hiding behind vague terms, such as self-defence and preemptive strikes. There’s irrefutably watertight evidence that the U.S. is not only extra-judicially killing militants, but it is also massacring civilians in cold blood as happened in Bariire on Aug. 25, when U.S. special forces murdered a dozen civilians, including children.
In a failed attempt to cover up the civilian casualties resulting from its illegal strikes, a spokesman for the Africa Command said on Jan. 24 that the U.S. would no longer release details about its drone operations in Somalia.
A day later, the Africa Command Spokesman John Manley told Voice of America that the U.S. would resume releasing information about its airstrikes, but, now its “messaging” will “place less emphasis on the number of militants killed” and “more context on how these strikes are helping our Somali partners achieve their strategic security objectives.”
America’s harmful policies and big fat lies have led many Somalis to second-guess Washington’s genuineness of the war against terrorism and whether it covertly supports the terrorists it claims to be fighting to prolong the chaos. Somalis dismiss Washington’s drone attacks as a smoke screen aimed at concealing its clever subterfuge to undermine the Somali nation, loot their resources and test new weapons in their country. What else explains the U.S.’s hypocritical objection to any talks with al Shabab when it holds direct negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, to allow its enemies to participate in Afghanistan’s politics to end that country’s 17-year-old war.
To continue his killing spree in Somalia, President Trump has designated much of Somalia an “area of active hostilities”, allowing the slaughter of civilians — “if deemed necessary and proportionate.”
“Without interagency vetting, commanders may strike people thought to be Shabab fighters based only on that status, without any reason to think that the individual target poses a particular and specific threat to Americans,” reported the New York Times on March 30, 2017.
The U.S. attacks in Somalia “appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes,” said Amnesty International in a recent, scathing report that accused the U.S. of killing 14 civilians in just five strikes.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smokescreen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Advisor on Arms and Military Operations. “Our findings directly contradict the US military’s mantra of zero civilian casualties in Somalia. That claim seems all the more fanciful when you consider the USA has tripled its air strikes across the country since 2016, outstripping their strikes in Libya and Yemen combined.”
Ambassador Yamamoto, in his message to Somalis in America, said: “We need your help. We need your advice. We need to know what we need to know. Because as long as you know that you don’t know very much that’s good.”
If America is honest — and that is a big “if” — it must first make a clean breast of it all, and atone for the run of crimes it committed — and committing — against the Somali nation.
The C.I.A. must, as a matter of priority, shut down its illegal listening posts and notorious torture chambers in Mogadishu. Washington must close its drone operation and let Somalis take the lead in securing their country. It must also desist from sending more troops to Somalia, where they’re unwelcome and even hated. If America thinks that Somalis are not aware of its monkey business, it doesn’t know Somalis.
Somalis must be eternally on the qui vive for America’s off-kilter policies. They can’t afford not to be vigilant because it’s becoming abundantly clear that Somalis’ aspirations of dignity and functioning government can’t be realized while the U.S. trashes Somalia’s sovereignty under the guise of the war on terror.
America, at least the Trump administration, doesn’t have a liking for Somalis. So let’s not allow America’s killing machines to operate in our country to save our people and protect our sovereignty and people.