EDITORIAL: Somalia president Hassan Sheikh learns lessons on US trip


EDITORIAL - Just how can Somalis assess President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s trip to the US this month? There have been debates on social media, about whether the President embarrassed the country or just used the available resources to pursue the foreign policy of the country.

We think the trip has been successful so far. But we also think it exposed gaps that his administration must work on just now.

The trip to the US was meant to be part of a wider agenda including offering the President a chance to explain counter-terrorism policy and seek assistance or explain it to doubters in the US.

He met with Secretary Antony Blinken where they discussed the fight against al-Shabaab, including Somalia’s assurances that US troops are welcome. Of course, there were also issues of good governance and human rights, but also the most crucial issue of saving communities from the biting drought.

The President also met with other senior US government officials including Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the President and Lloyd J Austin, the Defence Secretary with whom they discussed “views on the security outlook for the Horn of Africa in light of climate shocks, humanitarian issues, conflict, and the threat of violent extremism,” according to a Pentagon dispatch.

In all these meetings, the US seemingly affirmed continued support to ensure Somalia’s security is ultimately in the hands of Somalis.

But there were other issues too. On Friday, he spoke with the Somali community on local politics including the future of Somaliland. And according to President Mohamud, Mogadishu has been going slow on diplomatic aggression against Somaliland only as long as it does not seek secession or harm the unity of Somalia.

This is important because Somali leaders have generally swept the Somaliland issue under the carpet, seeking to wait it out and possibly pass the buck to the next leader. We said on this platform earlier that the Somaliland issue should be a priority for the leadership that succeeded Mohamed Farmaajo’s presidency.

There is no reason President Mohamud should not be explaining his stand and proposal on a matter that has plagued Somalia’s unity for 30 years.

This is not to say Mohamud’s trip to the US, his first since reelection is blameless. Critics have argued the President’s failure to meet with either President Joe Biden or his Vice President Kamala Harris, was a downgrade on the stature of Somalia.

September is usually a busy diary month for the US presidency as leaders descend on US Soil to attend the UN General Assembly. Some heads of state and government may routinely meet the President or VP; such as was the case of South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. We could be simplistic to blame the President based merely on who gave him the audience.

However, the entourage that attended his meetings with Blinken and the Defence Secretary leaves a lot to be desired. For once, there were no ministers for Defence, national security or defence in both meetings. Instead, a state minister for foreign affairs, a national security advisor and a protocol official accompanied the President. Was the President handling the docket himself or had he delegated the matter to junior officers? This was obviously not a state visit where the President had to meet his counterpart.

But more importantly, why would the ministers be absent on a matter directly under their dockets? It may have to do with visas which leads us to the question of their suitability to hold those offices.

The tradition across the world is for heads of state to ensure their top diplomats are men and women of impeccable character who can be welcomed anywhere around the world to lobby for their country’s national interest. There is no reason Somalia should choose its ministers based on a different criterion.

When the President lands back home, he may have with him a report of successes from the trip. But he must also use it to change the appearance of his cabinet to reflect a professional team that can defend their country without looking over their shoulders.

To have a minister barred from travelling to the US over some past criminal reason is shameful enough. But the President must also decide whether his government will from now on be inclusive, rather than seemingly rewarding his inner cable. President Mohamud made a promise to unite and ensure peace for Somalia. These are the yardsticks with which we shall measure his call.


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