The Way Forward for the United States in Somalia – Analysis

The Threat is Real What Brought the United States Back to Somalia? Counterterrorism and Great Power Competition Somalia Must Lead The Way Forward Improve Governance.  With Somalia perennially ranked worst in the world for  corruption , Somali leaders must instill greater accountability and transparency in government finance and operations. Somalia’s 400-page National Development  Plan  provides a comprehensive analysis and prescription to move the country out of poverty and insecurity. Al-Shabaab eschews non-Koranic education and Western medicine, which the overwhelming majority of Somalis want. Somali government success in improving public access to quality education and healthcare would not only reduce poverty levels, it but would also improve the population’s respect for government and undermine al-Shabaab’s standing. Set the Foundation.  Thirty years of conflict and division have left Somalis with a profound shortage of “social trust,” which hinders cooperation across communities and provides al-Shabaab opportunities to exploit divisions and grievances for its advantage. Somali authorities need to finalize, ratify, and bring into force the country’s new constitution to provide clarity on the country’s laws and how government responsibilities will be apportioned and funded. Somaliland’s status must be determined, which could allow for more cooperation and better management of disputed boundary issues. Somalia’s leaders also need to agree on and implement a plan to achieve the long-delayed “One Person One Vote” electoral system. Reform the Somali National Security Forces.  Somali political leaders must agree on the division of federal and state responsibilities for security, the modalities of clan integration, funding, and basing of units. The majority of the SNA is comprised of former clan militia that have not been melded into a national force and which, under pressure, could fracture. Many units lack discipline and are unwelcome when posted outside of their home districts. Foreign-trained units tend to operate outside of the SNA command structure and often receive higher salaries, building resentment within the SNA and diffused loyalties among the forces. The next president needs to reconstitute the SNA into a capable, clan integrated, and accountable national army, which can assume security responsibilities from AMISOM sometime after the planned 2021 handover. Work More with the States and Somaliland . U.S. engagement occurs overwhelmingly at the federal level, which has little capacity to deliver services outside of Mogadishu. The United States should revive its former “Dual-Track”  approach  by ramping up assistance to the periphery. Somalia’s provisional constitution provides for shared responsibilities for key public services; however, most states lack adequate security, human resources, and financing. Bolstering their capacity and output would help Somalis receive the security and services they lack and boost the viability of the member states as governing entities. Due to its distance and estrangement from Mogadishu, the United States should establish a consulate in Somaliland to assist U.S. citizens and businesses and to build relationships. It also should work with the African Union and others to resolve Somaliland’s status by persuading Somalia’s next president to undertake immediate and serious negotiations. Somaliland’s stability and location—particularly the port of Berbera—could give the United States strategically useful options, but only if Somaliland has international legal standing to negotiate agreements or consented to provisions of arrangements negotiated by the FGS. Increase and Speed Up Development Assistance . To displace and defeat al-Shabaab, the Somali government must earn the population’s support. USAID’s business development program has attracted investment to the private sector and created jobs. Health and education are sectors where U.S. assistance could make a meaningful difference if sizeable enough and implemented quickly. This would require USAID to program much faster. For example, the “Teach or Learn” education program remains unimplemented despite the bilateral agreement being signed more than four years ago. Such a delay undermines U.S. diplomacy and models failed service delivery. Resume Military Training and Reform . A modest U.S. military presence in Somalia designed to train Somali forces and support them against al-Shabaab is an appropriate and affordable role for the United States. It furthers the global fight against violent extremism, helps build the capable and accountable military that Somalia needs, and provides diplomatic leverage to induce further improvements in governance. The United States can provide an effective presence at troop levels well below the 700-800 operating in Somalia in late 2020. It can limit operational deployments to bases in Baledogle and Kismayo with episodic engagements elsewhere. Force protection at Baledogle could be provided by resident and capable Ugandan forces and contractors. U.S. officials should consider replacing Navy SEALs, whose mission focuses on the maritime domain, with Army or Marine special operations units, which are designed to train, advise, and partner with foreign forces. Stephen M. Schwartz

2021-01-13 | Law & Order, Politics/Diplomacy, Somalia | English |