In this interview, we are speaking with Mr. Larry André, the current United States Ambassador to Somalia, about Somaliland and his view on its independence and potential cooperation between Somaliland and the United States.
Somaliland Chronicle: You have been in the region for quite sometime, and as we know, the Horn of Africa is a restive region because of internal conflicts and global power competition. How do you see the future of the region? And how much does the rivalry between foreign powers contribute to the instability in the region?
Ambassador André: The entire world is currently confronting greater than usual challenges, including this region. If the various peoples who make up this region, and their leaders, can overcome these challenges through building optimal relations within their borders and with their neighbors, then this region has a bright future. Conflicts, both internal and external, make sustained social and economic progress impossible. Mutually beneficial, mutually supportive, and mutually respectful relations among individuals, among groups, among regions, and among countries advances the best interests of all. Freedom of expression and open discussion are required to achieve optimal relations. These principals apply to all human societies, including my own. An inclusive, tolerant, and united society and region is more resistant to negative external forces.
Somaliland Chronicle: Somalia went through a rough “election” cycle over the last one and a half years, but finally a new president is in place, however Al Shabab has been resurgent and has intensified their attacks. There are calls for the need to open talks with Al Shabab. Does the US encourage some type of dialogue with Al Shabab just like you did with the Taliban?
Ambassador André: Our top goal is to increase security for the United States and Somalia. Our role is to assist Somali security forces and their African Union allies in protecting Somalis, East Africans, and Americans from terror attacks, violent extortion, and the other criminal activities of the extremist organizations al Shabaab and Daesh. Somalia’s leaders will decide the best approach to protect the population from these groups, and how best to rid the country of their murderous and extortionary behavior.
Somaliland Chronicle: Somaliland is described as a model for peace, stability and democracy in the region and has been relatively successful in holding one person one vote elections with minimum outside help, especially from the US. Somaliland’s President visited the US in March 2022 and had fruitful meetings with the different sectors of the US administration and legislative houses. You are also aware there is a Somaliland Partnership Act with bipartisan support by the senate and similar bills by the House calling for establishing closer cooperation between Somaliland and the United States in areas of strategic interest. What are your plans for further advancing and solidifying this growing momentum?
Ambassador André: We often hear the mistaken assertion that the United States does not aid the people of Somaliland. That is false. As I informed President Bihi when we last met in Hargeisa, over a recent 12-month period the American people provided the following assistance to the people of Somaliland:
- More than $160,000 in security projects to counter money laundering and terrorist financing, upgrade visa registration systems, and train Somaliland Cost Guard officers.
- More than $1 million in programs to support increased investment, job creation, and renewable energy generation.
- More than $2.2 million to expand access to justice and support educational and professional opportunities for women and youth.
Since October 2020, The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration have provided more than $640 million in humanitarian funding to meet the needs of people in Somalia, including in Somaliland.
As I have told President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and President Muse Bihi, the United States is deeply committed to Somalia’s revival. We work with all stakeholders to improve security, prosperity, and governance. In collaboration with other international friends of Somalia, the United States has supported talks between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, most recently in June 2020 in Djibouti, which I attended at the invitation of both parties. The purpose of such talks is to find a way forward on specific arrangements that will improve the lives of all Somalis. We hope to provide future diplomatic, technical, and material assistance for a new round of talks when leaders are ready.
Within this context, we are currently considering additional partnership measures to propose to Somaliland authorities.
Somaliland Chronicle: What goals do you have for Somaliland – what would you like to have achieved at the end of your term?
Ambassador André: Exactly the same goals as I have for all of historic Somalia: Increased security, humanitarian response, inclusive economic growth, and effective governance.
Somaliland Chronicle: What are your plans to visit Hargeisa in an official capacity?
Ambassador André: I already visited Hargeisa and Berbera in my official capacity on May 12, including a formal call on President Bihi and his cabinet in Hargeisa, a tour of the Berbera airport, and an aerial tour of the Berbera sea port. This was my first official visit outside Mogadishu, other than meeting our troops in Baledogle. I have a list of other places and senior leaders within historic Somalia that I should visit. Once I complete those initial visits, I plan to return to Somaliland with more of my colleagues to consult with leaders and to review our aid programs.
Somaliland Chronicle: Can you elaborate on your recent comments to Hiiraan Online that U.S. policy is to recognize “historic Somalia, in its historic borders”?
Ambassador André: Sure. I note that Somaliland has cooperative relations with several countries, including Ethiopia, Djibouti and UAE, as well as ourselves. No United Nations member state recognizes Somaliland independence. We are no different than Somaliland’s other international friends. The United States recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia in its historic borders, which include the Somaliland region. We respect the achievements of the Somaliland region in terms of democratic governance and security. We work on shared goals with Somaliland’s authorities just as we do with Somalia’s Federal Member States. We view the question of Somaliland’s status as an issue for the people of Somalia (including Somaliland) to determine. We note that in the June 2020 talks in Djibouti between delegations from Hargeisa and Mogadishu, both parties agreed to work together to promote the interests of all Somalis within the territory of historic Somalia, thereby increasing mutual confidence and promoting reconciliation and an eventual agreement on status.
Somaliland Chronicle: How does the U.S. government define “historic Somalia”?
Ambassador André: Somalia was admitted into the United Nations on 20 September 1960. The United States, like all United Nations member states, recognizes Somalia as it was on that date.
Somaliland Chronicle: Your recent statement that U.S. policy to recognize “historic Somalia, in its historic borders ever since former British Somaliland opted to join the former Italian Somaliland and form the country” has been interpreted by some as wholly dismissing Somaliland’s sovereignty, and in more categorical terms than your predecessors. How do you respond?
Ambassador André: Official United States government policy is stated on this public webpage: U.S. Relations With Somalia – United States Department of State. Note this sentence: “The United States recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia within its 1960 borders…”
Somaliland Chronicle: Is it fair to say that you are taking a contrarian position to the rest of the US government when it comes to Somaliland and the fact that direct US engagement may be in the best interest of the United States? And how do you square your adherence to “historic Somalia” with the interest of the United States that may include potential military base in Berbera?
Ambassador André: My job is to accurately represent the views of the United States government. If I took “a contrarian position to the rest of the U.S. government” then I would soon become a former Ambassador.
Somaliland Chronicle: Do you agree with the 2005 assessment by an African Union fact-finding mission that Somaliland’s search for recognition is ”historically unique and self-justified”?
Ambassador André: I defer questions about African Union positions, past or present, on any given matter to the African Union.
Somaliland Chronicle: How would you compare the current state of democracy and security in Somaliland against that in Somalia?
Ambassador André: I frequently express our admiration for the achievements of the Somaliland region in terms of democratic governance and security. I first visited Hargeisa in 2001. Much progress has been achieved since then in terms of economic development and infrastructure as well. The Federal Government of Somalia was established ten years ago. Progress in all sectors has been achieved, although the last two years saw a partial reversal of that progress due to a dysfunctional level of political contentiousness. I sense a current public mood of cautious optimism, which we share.
Somaliland Chronicle: You have been extraordinarily deferential to government in Mogadishu, particularly in your rhetoric about the “one Somalia policy,” so how do you explain actions that seem to suggest a de facto recognition that the writ of the state does not extend into Somaliland, such as accompanying the U.S. AFRICOM commander to Hargeisa and Berbera?
Ambassador André: I disagree with your characterization. I characterize explaining our longstanding policy in clear terms as “extraordinarily honest.” We work with regional administrations throughout historic Somalia, as well as with the federal government in Mogadishu. General Townsend and I traveled together to Hargeisa and Berbera. Recently, Colonel Bishop and I traveled to Kismayo. This is normal.
Somaliland Chronicle: The Somaliland government has been very vocal about seeking partnership opportunities with the U.S.; what tangible steps is the U.S. taking to reciprocate these proposals?
Ambassador André: Per my response to question 3, we have extensive partnership programs in Somaliland. We have other potential cooperation under discussion. We are not able to satisfy every request, but our level of cooperation is comparable to that in other regions.
Somaliland Chronicle: How do you respond to criticism that you have alienated the Somaliland people by failing to visit Hargeisa for official consultations with government and civil society leaders? What is your message to those who have interpreted your recent statements and lack of direct engagement as signs of bad faith?
Ambassador André: I respond that they are mistaken. Again, I made an official visit to Hargeisa and Berbera on May 12, meeting with President Bihi, his cabinet, and several officials in Berbera. I first met President Bihi in Djibouti during the June 2020 talks between delegations from Mogadishu and Hargeisa. I have also spoken on the phone several times to President Bihi, Foreign Minister Kayd, and leaders of Somaliland’s political parties. I made a point of reaching out to Somali Americans with Somaliland origins when I was in Minneapolis earlier this month. I also met Somalilanders in Washington DC. I called on Somaliland’s representative in Nairobi. I communicate frequently with Somaliland’s representative in Washington DC. My record shows frequent direct engagement and good faith.
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