Foreign Policy Blogs

Johnnie Carson at CSIS

Yesterday I went to CSIS downtown to hear Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson talk about the Administration’s “Dual-Track” approach to Somalia.

The speech was good, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded particulary new when it came to foreign policy. The introduction was along the lines of, “no one has an idea what to do about Somalia” but since it’s clear the situation is getting worse rather than better, we should probably change our existing policy. Exactly how this would occur was a little more unclear. The duality of the “Dual-Track Approach to Somalia” means we are now going to be adding a component to our existing strategy that allows for providing support to moderate groups in “South Central Somalia” through an increased presence of “boots” on the ground (meaning USAID, contractors, other aid groups, etc).

The question and answer section was where it really got going:

Tony Carroll from SAIS and Manchester Trade asked whether the U.S. Treasury would look to lower restrictions on remittances to Somalia since remittances account for something like 40% of Somalia’s GDP and could be a way to support moderate groups. (Secretary Carson’s answer (I’m paraphrasing these): We don’t know who exactly this money is going to, so no, we won’t do that).

A lady who was either Ethiopian or Somali asked why we would consider this a new strategy, since it’s almost identical to what we’re already doing and the same strategy Ethiopia is using currently. (Secretary Carson’s answer: the strategy IS new, because we’re increasing our development presence, but we will only provide a hands-off approach because we will not get involved with what the AU is already doing in Somalia. He also said that, “the U.S. deserves credit for being able to think for itself: we decide what to do, we don’t base our decisions on what Ethiopia might think is appropriate and we’ll reserve the right to change this policy whenever we want”). [As an aside, this was the one and only time Ethiopia was mentioned. Secretary Carson gave full credit for trying to fix the situation in Somalia to Kenya.]

Reporter from AllAfrica: how is this new policy supposed to work when the TFG (transitional government) can only control a two-block section of Mogadishu? And, if we’re planning to increase USAID’s presence on the ground, has there been a discussion of creating a “Green Zone” similar to that in Baghdad for the Americans staffing these projects? (Secretary Carson’s answer: maybe the AUor UN will have something like that, but we absolutely refuse to support with any kind of military presence whatsoever. “Full stop.”)

Mohammad Ali from U.S. Somali Council: have you sought the input from American Somalis? When will Obama announce a Special Envoy to Somalia? (Secretary Carson’s answer: we’ve talked to them but there aren’t any plans to involve them moving forward, and President Obama isn’t planning on appointing an envoy to Somalia).

Also interestingly, Secretary Carson also made it abundantly clear that the U.S. will NEVER recognize Somaliland or Puntland as independent entities. He said that though they’ve done an admirable job of creating stability, the U.S. “hopes they gain the confidence to reunite with greater Somalia.”

The most surprising part of the speech to me (and the part that I think would resonate the most deeply with my colleagues) is the idea that while the U.S. plans to increase civilian presence in dangerous areas, there is no strategy for protecting them. This has become a common theme in development work, and one which worries me greatly, given this is the field I want to go into. I would not sign up to go to Somalia as it is right now, and I can think of very few who would- especially women.

I missed a bit in my feverish note-taking, but for more information about the U.S. support for increased Ugandan troop presence and why we should encourage Arab countries to aid us in supporting peace, read Reuters’ more professional article here.



Keena Seyfarth

Keena Seyfarth is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, getting a combination Masters degree in International Health and Humanitarian Assistance at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and International Development and International Economics at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. She has lived much of her life in rural Africa, and traveled extensively through southern and eastern Africa. She recently returned from six months in Ethiopia, where she worked for the public hospital system.