THE INTERVIEW: U.S ambassador to Somalia on return to Mogadishu, engagement with Somalia

Sunday March 10, 2019 - 03:58:47 in News In English by Ali Adan
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    THE INTERVIEW: U.S ambassador to Somalia on return to Mogadishu, engagement with Somalia Q. You have been in office for a couple of months now as the new ambassador to Somalia. What are the key priority areas you have identified and have you addressed any?

    Share on Twitter Share on facebook Share on Digg Share on Stumbleupon Share on Delicious Share on Google Plus Q. You have been in office for a couple of months now as the new ambassador to Somalia. What are the key priority areas you have identified and have you addressed any?

A: We re-established our presence on December 3, 2018. We closed the embassy in January 1991, so we have a lot of work to do, but I am very hopeful because right now we are looking for what are the needs of the Somali people, what do they want? And we will address those needs like Education we had 20,000 last year, we want to go to 150,000 targets for educating children.

We are looking at job creation, we are creating 1700 jobs and we want to create thousands of thousands more and again we are looking at health care programmes and we really need to do more job creation in the areas of agriculture, fishing industries, and even livestock. The last time we talked about dairy programmes. We are helping to produce 3500 liters of milk each and every day with yogurt etc. in the Somali market in Mogadishu and that generated almost over 1500 jobs.

Q: The US government is now headed by President Donald Trump. What is President Donald Trump’s vision for Somalia?

A: That is a good question. So as you know Somalia is important because peace in Somalia will also guarantee and ensure safety in security for Ethiopia, Kenya , nd all the neighboring states and also vice versa. Their stability and peace will also ensure stability in Somalia, so what we want to do is to promote regional integration from Eritrea to Djibouti to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

Somalia is critical because you have the longest coastline and so with that in mind we can generate across Africa over 100 billion dollars in new wealth just by doing an integration of economies that means money and jobs for all the people.

Q: Speaking during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 25, 2018. Mr. Yamamoto, you said, "If approved I would advance US national interests in Somalia.” So far what is your achievement for the interests of both US and Somalia?

A: US national strategic interest is to ensure that we have a safety and security peace and also economic development. Those are the two critical criteria for looking at economic development in Somalia and that is what we are going to do and we are on the road to achievement. This is a journey that is not only by the United States alone it’s going to be with the people of Somalia and also the elected leaders of Somalia that we must work together and so the integration and working closely between the regional states and the federal government.

And the other side is helping the people of Somalia through education and increasing health care but also give them opportunities for the future and I think we are on the road to success and that that I have seen for the over two decades working on Somalia

Q: Your main assignment was to support the building of effective security forces, implementing stabilization and economic recovery programmers and delivering humanitarian aid. How are you going to face and prioritize these issues?

A: So we have a two-pronged approach; security and safety is very critical and not only in Somalia but all the countries even in the US because if you can have people who are free to pursue their own economic pursuits that offer opportunities and space for them to develop and once you have development that would be perfect.

So the US recently did a report on the driver of the violent extremism and one of the premises is lack of jobs and you find people joining Boko Haram, ISIS in West Africa, Al-Shabaab.This is a journey that is not only by the United States alone it’s going to be with the people of Somalia and also the elected leaders of Somalia that we must work together and so the integration and working closely between the reegional states and the federal government.

The UN assess that jobs are very critical in addressing about 70% of this fighters, so if that is a critical criterion and then we need to look on ways and means to expand job creations and for Africa that is important.

You know the data between now and the end of this century, every two people born in the world one will be African that means we even have to create lots of jobs. We assessed 20 million jobs in a year need to be created just to meet the needs and the aspirations of Africa and here in Somalia it starts with one job at a time and one person at a time and I think we are achieving that. Creating 1700 jobs just in the last several months I think that is a start and we can do more and can do better.

Q: We know Mr. Ambassador that the US militarily helped Somalia national forces in the fight against Al-Shabaab. Lately, US fighter jets have more than doubled their air-strikes on Al-Shabaab held areas. What can you tell us these airstrikes? 

A: So let’s go to overall security in the continent of Africa, When I first start in the African issues over two decades ago we started what is call ACRI (African Crisis Response Initiative) and become ACOTA (African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance). The issue is we want to train African troops to meet the security needs in each African state and if you look at the total number of peacekeepers in Africa today it is over 60,000 and over half of them in UN operations are African troops and most of them have trained by the US and if you include the African Union we are probably at over 60% of all peacekeeping troops in Africa trained by the US and what is good about this is that it is now Africa meeting the security needs over their own countries.

FILE: Somali National Army soldiers stand in formation during a logistics course graduation ceremony. (Photo by MC2 (SW/AW) Evan Parker. Released)

So here in Somalia, our goal is to train and really upgrade in the security of your forces in order to bring security so that you can have economic development and progress and they can really go hand in hand; the security side and also the economic side.

Question? But you have increase attacks against Al-Shabaab?

A: I differ to the ministry of communication because they are the ones that are addressing a lot of these security needs. And don’t forget there are Somali forces out there who are also meeting the needs of the security of the people of Somalia, not only the Somalia national army which is developing but also the clan-based groups like the Danab and also joint hybrid forces in Somalia and this are also trained by the US, EU, and other countries and now that you are having a lot more security and space for development that is taking place.

Q: On the issue of US airstrikes, there have been reports that sometimes they miss their target and harm civilians. To what extent does the US government avoid inflicting harm on civilians?

A: We refer again to your ministry of communication. So the US pursuit is bringing security to the safety of Somalia is at the request and the support of the people and the elective government officials

So the US, if you look at what where we are engaged in other parts of the world, is to strengthen the host nations’ military forces to have the capability and the capacity to meet their own needs.

Ours is that we avoid to the great extent any casualties among the civilians and what the Al-Shabaab and all other terrorist organizations have done is that is to blame a lot of casualties on civilians that they engaged in on Somali forces and the US.

So the issue is that we know what the truth is and the ministry of communication is being publishing and all the casualty rates have been engaged and done by Shabaab and also by violent extremist.

We the US look at that any casualties to civilians are terrible and are bad, so we want to avoid that and we do that. But when you have extremism organizations from Boko Haram to ISIS West Africa and to Shabaab, they use that as a mechanism to control and destroy the communities in order to dominate. It is like a bullet but this is a violent bullet and what you do is to stop it and eliminates it so that people can go on with their own lives. There is an old adage in the United States; if people who are angry, they only spread the anger, but a person who is happy and gets the benefits will also expand the benefits so that is what we want to do- expand benefits, happiness and hope for the people of Somalia.

Q: Taliban and U.S started talks in Doha Qatar, do you think it is time for similar talks between the feral government of Somalia and Al-Shabaab with your support?

A: I served in Afghanistan and my son was there too in the US Army. So it is very unusual to have a father and a son in the same war zone. Somalia ultimately lies in the hands of people of Somalia; it cannot be directed or dictated by anyone other than the people in the government that are elected by the people on how you want to handle in the future because this is your country, this is your future.

What we in the United States want to do is ensure we don’t have outsiders playing an unhelpful role or giving or directive advice. Because ultimately it is you the people of Somalia, the government who have to take in charge and the ownership. So what we are trying is to give you that opportunity and how you want to handle Al-Shabaab ultimately lies in your own hands and also in your own direction and we will support the best we do.

Remember what the United Nations, over 70% are looking for jobs, economic so if that is the issue and we even been directed by community leaders and government, Somalia needs jobs, needs economic development that is the issues we gonna to do that and just to be clear the United States, the amount of  investments and assistance we provide is more than all other donors combined that’s Turkey, UAE, Qatar, EU, and all other countries, so the US is at the forefront of providing assistance and investments.

Q: In a statement last December here in Mogadishu you stated that the United States is committed to providing more than $900 million in critical investment. The world is making constant pledges where millions were promised and there seems to be no visible change on the ground. What is do you think could be the reason behind this?

 A: In 2017 we had a severe drought; we ratcheted up humanitarian assistance; we provided over 630 million dollars, so we provided the bulk of all the humanitarian food aid, medicine for the people of Somalia. In fact, our assistance exceeded everyone else’s contribution. You may not see that all the time or you feel it but you experience it because it shows the commitment the not only of the US government but also the people of the US to meet the humanitarian assistance.

This year alone we will be going to provide over 430 million dollars in food assistance; right now with your population of 13 million, 4.6 million are in critical in need of food, so who is going to help to feed them? The US is at the forefront of providing that assistance.

You have 2.5 million who have no home and are internally displaced, who is helping them to meet their housing needs and also to support where they are going to live? The US is addressing those issues. So those are things we are looking at but those are basic needs, what are you going to do for the future and that’s where we also come in, so what is it that really helps development? It’s education and without education, you cannot have development, without vocational training, so that are the two areas that the US is a leader.

So if you look at Africa 66% of all girls are educated in Africa today why because the US is committed to it and for boys its over 83% and at the secondary level we have 34% girls educated and over 64% boys and we need to do better and we are asking other donors to help this well but until then the US will be the leader.

The other issue that we want to look at is that the increase of the infrastructure development, saving rates and also access to money and loans because that is going to develop and Somalia government is doing amazing on rate of growth, you have increased growth rates, you have lowered inflation rates, you are receiving support from the Internal Monetary Fund, World Bank and that’s amazing, because no other country is at the level Somalia is on reform. So within the next five years, you will be going to see a tremendous amount of expansion in the economy and that’s because a lot of things that your prime minister has done and the people of Somalia in the government and the US is supporting them.

Q: Your country has contributed a lot of money to AMISOM for the last 10 years. Do you think that AMISOM and the UN are doing a good job in Somalia?

A: After we left Somalia in 1991, Somalia was tragically thrown into a civil war and what we did as commitment is that, you cannot have any state, country or any region in violence or in political instability because that impacts on other countries and so in 2007 when we started to work with the African Union and later the UN to bring the AMISOM forces in order to stabilize and give the Somali forces the opportunity to grow, develop and expand, so has AMISOM made its mandate, to a certain extent it has, there are other areas that it has not and those are the areas that we are trying to help.

As you know in that last week that over 200 Burundian troops have left but still remains over 20,000 AMISOM troops in various sectors and as the plan is for as AMISOM departs then those areas will be taken over by Somalia national army. It hasn’t worked in all areas but we are hopeful that the efforts that we are putting in will help Somalia to build the capacity and the capability to do that.

Q: In Somali politics, we have seen foreign government dealing with federal member states and the federal government separately. Is the United States keen changing this narrative?

A: As you know that the form of governments depend on the people and the elected officials of the people of Somalia. If you look at the US history we’re talking about the articles of the confederation and it failed and it was not appropriate so the US changed to the federal government in a constitution, but even that it took 50 years to establish a constitutional government within the United States. So it’s a process, procedures and is up to the people of Somalia to determine, however you determine we will follow; we are not going to direct, do not guide, all we are doing is try to support what you want to do in your future because ultimately in the end its your country, it’s your future, we want to support and make it a brighter future and that is all we want.


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