United States Secretary of State John Kerry made a brief unannounced trip to Somalia Tuesday, in a bid to show support for the progress made by the country’s government and to thank regional nations for their contributions to AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. It marked the first time a sitting secretary of state has visited Somalia.
In Mogadishu, Kerry held talks with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the country’s prime minister. He also met with three regional presidents and a civil society group.
After greeting Kerry at the airport, the Somalia president said: “This is a great moment for us… thank you for the time to be with us.”
“I am glad to be here,” responded Kerry, who also expressed hope that Somalia could make further progress in the future.
Kerry also expressed hope Somalia will make further progress, saying “The next time that I come, we have to be able to just walk downtown.”
The Somali president said downtown Mogadishu “is very different than it was two years ago,” and that the roads have improved and the city has traffic jams.
Prior to his arrival, a senior State Department official said, “I think it (Kerry’s visit) will send a strong signal to al-Shabab that we are not turning our backs on the Somali people and that we will continue to engage with Somalia until we bring al-Shabab’s terror to an end.”
In a VOA interview, President Mohamud called al-Shabab an “enemy that has no dignity.” He commented shortly after the Somali-based militant group attacked Kenya’s Garissa University College, last month, killing 147 people.
Kerry traveled to Somalia from Kenya, where he discussed counterterrorism efforts with the country’s leaders. Kenya is one of the countries that have contributed troops to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
Kenya also hosts thousands of Somalis at its refugee camps. After the Garissa attack, some Kenyan political leaders called for the repatriation of Somali refugees at the Dadaab complex in northeastern Kenya. They accused the refugees of playing a role in Kenya’s insecurity.
The U.S. has provided training, equipment and drone strikes to the African Union led effort that has resulted in ousting al-Shabab from major cities in Somalia.
However, the senior State Department official said the Somali government still has work to do when it comes to taking control of its own security.
“Somali National Army – the national’ is missing,” the official said.
The official said the Somali government’s efforts to bring clans and sub-clans under the “umbrella” of a national army are still “a work in progress.”
Kerry’s visit to Mogadishu comes at a time when the U.S. has been working to broaden its engagement with Somalia.
In February, President Barack Obama nominated career diplomat Katherine Dhanani to serve as the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia since 1991. If confirmed by the Senate, she would lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia, which is located in Kenya.
“Once the ambassador is on the ground, we are going to have a much more enduring TDY (temporary duty assignment) footing in Somalia,” the senior State Department official said.