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As US Policymakers Question Somalia Framework, Somali President Ahmed Plans PR Tour

Will Somalia's would-be central government survive?

Some American foreign policy experts are losing patience with the current political framework in Somalia. Alexander Noyes and Richard Bennet of the Council on Foreign Relations argue that Washington should cease direct military aid to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, work with regional partners to cut supply lines to the insurgency, and encourage negotiations between the TFG and the Islamist insurgent group al Shabab. Seth Myers of the Center for a New American Security favors an approach that emphasizes support to Somaliland and Puntland while moving to quarantine southern Somalia.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, meanwhile, hopes to defend his legitimacy in the international arena. Yesterday, Ahmed met with the president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, to solicit his support on an expanded UN peacekeeping mandate for Somalia in advance of the UN General Assembly meeting from September 15-30.

A more ambitious agenda will follow later this fall, when Ahmed visits US cities with Somali communities such as Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio.

Secretary Clinton's meeting with Ahmed in Kenya in August, and the increased aid she offered to Somalia, conveyed substantial US support for Ahmed's government. Yet his position is still uncertain. A visit by Ahmed to the US, then, would serve several purposes:
  • Shoring up support among US policymakers for his government and for the idea of a united Somalia
  • Outreach to Somali-Americans
  • Reassurance to Washington that his government is making a pro-active effort to persuade young Somali-Americans not to fight for al Shabab
Ahmed's strategy is bold, but will it be convincing? The situation in Somalia is deteriorating. The town of Beledweyne, recently - though briefly - occupied by Ethiopian troops, has apparently fallen to al Shabab. The unease that originally impelled Ethiopian forces to cross the border and scare off insurgents could prompt a more sustained military intervention soon. Meanwhile, political crisis is flaring up in Somaliland after President Dahir Riyale postponed elections. Over one and a half million Somalis are displaced. It's easy to see why some people in Washington are frustrated. Clinton's pledge of increased aid to the TFG sent a strong signal, but Washington's commitment to this approach, and this government, may not last forever.