Glimmer of Hope: US Appoints Ambassador To Somalia After Two Decades

Glimmer of Hope: US Appoints Ambassador To Somalia After Two Decades

Katherine Dhanani was named the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in more than 20 years on Feb. 25, signaling a deepening relationship that was strained between the two countries since Somali forces brought down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in 1993.

This was big news for citizens of the war-torn Horn of Africa nation and came as a relief. Just a couple of weeks earlier, the U.S. led other Western countries including Australia and Britain in blocking money transfers to Somalia on the grounds that they could be financing terrorists.

With the reinstatement of the first U.S. ambassador since war broke out in Somalia in 1991, there is hope that the $1.3 billion remittance channel could resume normal service soon.

Many Somali families depend on relatives abroad to send sustenance money through an informal money transfer system known as hawala.

“This is a sign of the improved situation there (Somalia), and our confidence that this country is moving in the right direction,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, during a recent online press briefing to discuss U.S. policies in Africa.

A 24-year war between government forces supported by African Union forces against Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab has brought Somalia’s economy to its knees in its capital Mogadishu and other town around the country.

The country has however seen some semblance of peace in the last two years, giving hope that its economy can be revived. Several other countries have also renewed relations with the Horn of Africa nation.

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“Well let me just say, why not now? It’s about time. It’s been 20 years,” Thomas-Greenfield said, adding that the new U.S. ambassador to Somalia will be based in Nairobi for now because “Kenya is the easiest place for (U.S.) to launch our travel into Somalia.”

“US-Somalia Relations”

U.S. relations with Somalia have been shaky since the war started in the early ’90s.

The U.S. pulled diplomatic staff out of Somalia following an ill-fated intervention portrayed in the film, “Black Hawk Down.”

After the U.S. pullout in 1993, Somalia sunk into a chronic state of chaos which gave hard-line Islamic terror groups like Al Qaeda a chance to infiltrate the country’s weakened government structure and try to establish sharia law through its affiliate Al Shabaab.

Efforts by African peacekeeping forces over the years pushed Al Shabaab out of the country’s capital Mogadishu and reduced its influence in the country. The militia group has however been waging a series of gun and grenade attacks to try to overthrow the government.

In support, the U.S. launched a series of drone strikes against al Shabaab leaders in recent months, killing its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, in September, Tahliil Abdishakur, chief of al Shabaab’s intelligence and security wing, in late December. Adan Garar, the group’s leader, was killed by U.S, forces March 12, according to Time.com. Garar is suspected to have masterminded the Westgate Attack in Kenya that killed over 70 people.

“I think our vision is clear. Our vision is the African vision. It is a vision of peace, it is a vision of security, it is a vision of prosperity,” Thomas-Greenfield said.