U.S ambassador to Somalia speaks on elections, security and ongoing humanitarian crisis – Goobjoog News English

Newly appointed U.S ambassador to Somalia Larry André spoke to Goobjoog News in an exclusive interview exploring recent travel sanctions against Somali politicians, AMISOM transition, the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and media freedom among other topical issues. Read the full interview below.

G.N: The U.S. has announced travel sanctions for those who obstruct elections in Somalia. In your assessment, how do you think this has been effective in accelerating the election process?

Our restrictions on issuance of visas to travel to the United States apply to those we believe have played a role in undermining the democratic process in Somalia, including through violence against protestors, unjust arrests and intimidation of journalists and opposition members, and manipulation of the electoral process, and can also be applied to their immediate family members.

Most Somalis tragically suffered over two decades of violent chaos following state collapse in 1991.  In our understanding, Somalia’s revival began with the adoption of the provisional constitution in 2012, which was the product of a series of international peace conferences held over several years.  Since 2012, the institutions established in the provisional constitution have begun to bring a greater measure of stability to Somalia.  However, for over a year, the elected institutions, the legislative and executive branches of government, have languished outside the tenure permitted by the provisional constitution.  That saps their legitimacy and credibility, endangering the gains achieved by the Somali people and their leaders.  It is urgent that this be corrected.

Some prominent political leaders have clearly prioritized personal interests over national interests, thereby putting their nation at risk and risking the considerable investments the American people have made in Somalia’s revival.  With these visa restrictions, we are saying that those who risk Somalia’s stability and young democracy, along with their immediate family members, are not welcome in our country.

The visa restrictions are also triggered by the election deadlines set by Somalia’s National Consultative Council.  When the first NCC deadline (25 February) was not respected, we took note and the visa restrictions were applied to several individuals.  If the next NCC deadline (15 March) is not respected, then we will again take note and names will be added to the list of those restricted from traveling to the United States.

Many politically active Somalis have told us that our policy is encouraging some political leaders to make greater efforts to keep their commitments regarding the elections.

The U.S. sanctions have generated debate but left many guessing who could be on the list. Don’t you think it’s time the Somali public know who is in the list?

We are often asked about the list of restricted individuals.  Under our law, an individual’s visa status cannot be shared publicly.  Those concerned will learn of the restriction when and if they apply for a visa, or when they are contacted about the cancellation of a previously issued visa.

AMISOM is transitioning into ATMIS. While this has been hailed as a step in realizing the Somali Transition Plan, observers also think it’s just a refashioning; a change of name only. As a key stakeholder, what is your government’s approach to ATMIS and how will it fit within the U.S. security framework in Somalia and HoA?

We see the reconfiguration of AMISOM into ATMIS as an important opportunity towards achieving the goal of Somali forces entirely securing the country without the assistance of partner foreign militaries.  This is a principal goal of Somalia’s leadership and of Somalia’s international security partners.

ATMIS is a joint African Union/Federal Government of Somalia plan based on the Somali Transition Plan, which was used to design every aspect of AMISOM’s successor mission. The benchmarks towards Somali force generation are another new aspect of ATMIS.  This metric will measure progress as Somali forces gradually increase and foreign forces gradually decrease.

Our security framework is as follows: increase security for Somalia and the United States by 1) Providing focused security assistance to increase the effectiveness of Somali forces, leading to a reduction in terrorism, terrorism financing, insurgency, and violent crime, and 2) Enhancing security coordination among Somali forces and international partners to reduce the risk of Somalia-based global terrorism.

Somalia is currently undergoing a severe drought which is feared could transition into a famine. Could you speak about your country’s response plan to this humanitarian crisis?

The American people are fully committed to supporting Somalis suffering from the worsening drought crisis.  We are providing urgently needed food, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and protection assistance as part of our comprehensive drought response for Somalia. We work with Somalia’s federal and state governments, United Nations agencies, and private organizations to serve Somalis in the worst affected areas such as most of southern, central, and northeastern Somalia.

Over the past five years, the American people contributed an average of $450M annually in humanitarian assistance for Somalis in need of help.  In confronting this humanitarian crisis during a period of especially scarce resources, we encourage Somalia’s other donors to consider increasing their support to this effort, and to do so through the United Nations to ensure the aid gets to those in greatest need and in a coordinated fashion.

There has been a marked uptick of Al-Shabaab attacks targeting the elections and probably even the transition to a new government. Are you concerned that Al-Shabaab could be making a comeback and stronger than before?

Al-Shabaab is stronger than ever.  They have momentum and are on the offensive.  We have seen this over the past year as too many of Somalia’s political leaders have chosen to prioritize politics over defending Somalis from murder, violent extortion, and other crimes by this group.  Al-Shabaab’s crimes are made even more despicable by their false justifications in the name of one of humanity’s great religious traditions.

Our security cooperation is based on shared interests in defending both Somalis and Americans from al-Shabaab violence and their other criminal activities.  Our investments in Somalia’s revival can only achieve full success once these attacks cease.  We are directly aware of the courage and selflessness of many members of Somalia’s security forces.  They are committed to serving their nation, risking their lives to defend their fellow citizens.  My colleagues and I deeply admire them.

We ask all Somalia’s leaders to renew their commitment to degrading al-Shabaab’s ability to conduct attacks and making Somalia a much safer place. With that commitment, demonstrated through action, we can together stop and reverse Al-Shabaab’s momentum, putting them back on the defensive and sharply reducing their attacks in the short-term, while working in the longer-term to end al-Shabaab attacks all together.

Media freedom in Somalia has deteriorated in recent years and worsened in the lead up to the elections. What message is the U.S. sending to perpetrators of [abuses against] rights of journalists in Somalia?

We are aware of abuses against the principle of freedom of expression in general and against journalists in particular committed by authorities in various parts of Somalia.  Such action is contrary to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Somalia is a signatory.  It is an element considered in our visa restriction policy.  We document some of these unfortunate instances in our annual Human Rights Report, which is available online.  We agree that the plight of Somali journalists has worsened during “siyaasad season.”  Democracy requires a well-informed citizenry who are free to discuss all issues.  Somalia cannot reach its full potential while this basic freedom is denied to so many.

On Ukraine, the situation is fast deteriorating despite sanctions from the West. How do you think this development could impact countries in the periphery such as Somalia?

There is global opposition to Russia’s attempt to extinguish Ukraine’s sovereignty and to absorb Ukraine’s territory and people.  Earlier this month, Somalia joined 140 other countries to vote in favor of the UN resolution condemning Russia for invading Ukraine.  The Ukrainian people are bravely defending their country.  Russia is purposely destroying civilian areas causing great loss of life.  If Russia succeeds in conquering Ukraine, then other leaders around the world will be tempted to do likewise, returning to an earlier, more brutal period in human history.

Africa’s liberation era leaders wisely decided to accept existing borders, even though these artificial borders often divided well established cultural, linguistic, and ethnic communities.  They wanted to avoid constant warfare among African states disputing these borders inherited from colonialism.  Instead, they chose to emphasize the principle of African Unity so that Africa’s borders over time become less rigid, making transboundary communities whole again, even when not within the borders of the same country.  This principle is unevenly applied on the continent but exists to a greater extent than in some other regions of the world.  The European Union, which also includes many transboundary ethnic-linguistic-cultural communities, is another great example of this principle.  Africa and Europe have much to teach the world in this regard.  Russia’s behavior points in the opposite direction to a future of destruction, misery, and death.

Kenya-Somalia relations has been overwhelmed by rifts for the last five years of Farmaajo’s tenure, what impact will it have for both the two neighboring countries?

The United States enjoys excellent relations with its two neighbors, Mexico and Canada, yet there exists both historical and contemporary disputes among the three of us.  Much more unites us than divides us.  We manage our disputes within the context of our friendship.  We are confident that leaders in both Somalia and Kenya can resolve current issues as they have in the past.  We are honored to be a strong partner to Somalia and to Kenya.  We know both Somalis and Kenyans will gain from improved relations.

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