17 January 2013

Somalia's Fledgling Democracy Wins U.S. Recognition

Photo: Stuart Price/UN Photo
A Somali girl runs in front of an African Union armed personnel carrier in Mogadishu. In past months, residents of Mogadishu have enjoyed relative peace in their city after decades of instability.

Washington — Somalia's newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton exchanged diplomatic notes in Washington January 17, marking the first time the United States has recognized the Somali government in Mogadishu since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991.

At a press briefing afterward, Clinton said: "There is still a long way to go and many challenges to confront, but we have seen a new foundation for a better future. ... For the first time in two decades, Somalia has an elected government." Earlier the same day, President Obama met with Hassan Sheikh at the White House, a strong signal, Clinton said, of U.S. support for Somalia's fledgling democracy.

The formal recognition of the elected Somali government enables new relationships not only with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other development partners in the U.S. government, but also opens up opportunities for the Somali government to receive assistance from international financial communities.

Somalis have endured years of civil strife, one of Africa's longest civil wars and terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab, a terrorist offshoot of the militant Islamist group al-Qaida.

Clinton emphasized that the United States never gave up hope that Somalia would one day be able to enjoy democracy, peace and safety for its citizens.

Clinton said the United States will continue to fight terrorists who continue to threaten not only Somalia but the entire African region.

"Somalia's transformation was achieved first and foremost by the people and leaders of Somalia, backed by strong African-led support," Clinton said. "We also want to thank the African Union, which deserves a great deal of credit for Somalia's success."

The United States, she said, was proud to support this effort by providing $650 million in assistance to the African Union mission in Somalia and more that $130 million to Somalia's security forces. In addition, in the past two years the United States has given nearly $360 million in emergency humanitarian assistance and more than $45 million to help rebuild Somalia's economy. The United States has also provided more than $200 million throughout the Horn of Africa for Somali refugee assistance.

Hassan Sheikh expressed Somalia's gratitude for the "unwavering" U.S. support provided to his country. "In the last 22 years that Somalia was in difficult times, the United States has always been the country that never left Somalia," he said.

"We are working for a Somalia that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors, where its citizens can go about their daily lives in safety," the Somali president said. "Instability, violent extremism and crime in Somalia are a threat not only to Somalia, but to the region and the world at large. We look to the future with hope, pride and optimism."

U.S. diplomatic officials have been traveling more frequently to Somalia, the secretary noted, and she added: "I do look forward to the day when we can re-establish a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Mogadishu."

"Today is a milestone," Clinton said. "It is not the end of the journey, but an important milestone to that end. We respect the sovereignty of Somalia, and as two sovereign nations we will continue to have an open, transparent dialogue about what more we can do to help the people of Somalia realize their own dreams."

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