On May 5, John Kerry, in an unexpected trip, made history by being the first United States Secretary of State to visit Somalia. His trip to the Capitol of Somalia, Mogadishu, was unannounced but the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was at the airport to greet him. This is an important moment for the relationship between the nations, which has been strained in the past yet is still ongoing. Kerry’s visit may prove to be a sign of relief for many within the country who have been struggling through a series of violent events.
While officially unexpected, upon his arrival Kerry was greeted by Mohamud and said that he was “glad to be here” and inquired whether the president had been waiting a “long time” for him. Mohamud responded simply that “[i]t’s worth waiting.” It is reported that Kerry never left the airport while conducting his meeting with dignitaries. However, this was a rather risky trip for the Secretary of State considering recent events including the attack on Garissa University on April 2 that killed 148 and the 1998 bombing of a U.S. embassy that killed 218. While both these incidents are horrendous crimes, they are but only two acts of terror amongst a string of similar crimes.
Since the attack on Garissa University, all of the 148 bodies except for one have been collected from the Chiromo Mortuary in Nairobi. Chief government pathologist Johannes Oduor explained to the newspaper The Standard that this was done so that authorities could begin testing the DNA of the victims in an effort to identify them. The survivors are forging on, but it has not been an easy process for those whose lives were in such great danger. There are efforts being made to ensure that their educations continue uninterrupted so that they can move forward with their lives in the best way possible.
Kerry, in his short visit, did not have time to visit those traumatized by the violence of this attack. A major security concern for Kerry on this trip lies in the nature of the Garissa bombing. This attack has affected the public slightly differently than other acts of terror within the region. One reason for this is because everyone knows that those who did the bombing came from within the community, and are still among them.
Kerry noted that the primary focus in the area should be combatting the al-Shabab. Al-Shabab is a target of African forces and U.S. drones and is crippled to a certain extent. However, due to the decentralized nature of the group it is difficult to know, with complete certainty, their numbers and position. There is data suggesting the group’s finances have depleted and funds that would help them to rebuild their organization simply are not available.
Somalia’s government has also been crippled in the past though, too. However, the Obama administration has taken steps to rebuild the relationship between the U.S. and Somalia that has proven partially successful. In February, President Obama nominated the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia since the 1990’s, Katherine S. Dhanani. Through avenues such as this, the U.S. hopes to aid in creating better security in the region. They believe that through better security, economic and political progress will follow. This is indeed a goal of most those in the region.
Al Jazeera has reported Kerry’s unexpected visit to Somalia as being a message to al-Shabab that the U.S. is not “turning our backs on the Somali people.” This may be true, but as indicated by the Obama administration, the region needs to improve security before real progress can begin to take hold. Before leaving Kerry told Mohamud, “[t]he next time I come, we have to be able to just walk downtown.”
By Joel Wickwire
Photo by rjones0856’s Flickr Page – Creativecommons Flickr License
Photo by openDemocracy’s Flickr Page – Creativecommons Flickr License