On December 13, 2018, national-security adviser John Bolton, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, unveiled the Trump administration’s Africa strategy, key components of which were, first, advancing trade ties to enable allies to thrive, and second, countering “radical Islamic terrorism.”
It is ironic, then, that in the Horn of Africa, the Trump administration now doubles down to do the opposite. As China moves into Djibouti and Ethiopia and as the U.S.-funded government in Mogadishu increasingly offers its strategic assets to China, the State Department has decided to break past precedent and turn its back on Somaliland, the only stable, secure, and truly democratic region in the Horn of Africa, even as Russia seeks to move in on the territory.
More important, however, is that the U.S. State Department is, through either neglect or malpractice, risking a resurgence of radicalism in the Horn of Africa. Most of Somalia descended into chaos in 1991 as warlords and politicians fought over and looted government agencies and foreign aid. Along the Gulf of Aden, however, Somaliland remained stable and has been de facto independent ever since. In effect, Somaliland is to Somalia what Taiwan is to China. In terms of stability, it is what Iraqi Kurdistan is to Iraq, although, unlike Iraqi Kurdistan, it has embraced a more democratic (and less corrupt) order.
Somalia remains a mess. Just as in the run-up to Somalia’s initial collapse, the State Department’s policy seems simply to throw cash at the problem, apparently unaware that flooding failing governments with money exacerbates corruption and hastens collapse. (Perhaps it is time for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the House Oversight Committee to call U.S. ambassador Donald Yamamoto to explain his direction of a policy that has cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.)
While the United States recognizes a Somalia federal government, which in turn claims authority over the entirety of the country, in reality the central Somali government does not control more than a few city blocks in Mogadishu, and even that depends on an African peacekeeping mission that should expire next year. In a worrying development, earlier this month the Somali National Army disintegrated in the face of an al-Shabaab attack on Balad, just 20 miles from the capital. Al-Shabaab also reportedly took Dhanaane, just ten miles south of the capital’s main airport, amid the federal government’s failure to pay its troops. On March 23, an al-Shabaab bombing killed the country’s deputy labor minister and at least nine others in the heart of the capital. Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, commonly known as Farmajo, appears helpless to do anything about Somalia’s spiral into the abyss and now seems more eager to travel outside the country on the international donors’ dime.