The bilateral relations between the United States and Somalia were consummated on the date Somalia won its independence from Italy and Britain. The United States recognized the Somali Republic on July 1, 1960. Somalia was born of a union between former British and Italian colonies. Commemorating the occasion of his country’s independence, President Aden Abdulla Osman received a congratulatory message from his counterpart, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The United States mission in Mogadishu was raised to Embassy status, and the Somali Republic opened its Embassy in Washington DC.
On his first official visit to the United States on November 27, 1962, Somali Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, was received at the White House by President John F. Kennedy. At a Joint press conference, President Kennedy spoke highly of the government of Somalia, saying that “separated as we are by geography and history, we also find a sense of kinship to your government which is separation of powers between the executive, legislator, and judiciary bear resembles to the balance of powers which we felt in this country best insures the liberty of the individuals.”
It was a remarkable time for relations between United States and Somalia. As the United States was impressed with Somalia’s democratic credentials, and how it could be a model for the rest of Africa. The time of independence, Somali leaders were keeping the country on the path to democracy.
Prime Minister Sharmarke’s administration separated the three branches of the government, and allowed free press in the country. His administration also encouraged political parties to compete for offices; candidates were regularly voted into and out of office. President Aden Osman was the first head of state in sub-Saharan Africa that came to office through an election and left when he was defeated in an election. Somalia’s transition from colonialism to a democratic system of governance was doable because the Somali people share a common culture, language, and religion. From 1960 to 1969, Somalia’s government was in the hands of leaders like President Osman, who were inclined towards the policies of the West. However, in order to demonstrate nonalignment, the Somali government established ties with the Soviet Union and China soon after independence
Somalia was attracted to the United States because it had no history of colonialism. The Somali people were betrayed by invading European powers that came to take over their land and rule. For many years, these foreign powers destroyed natural resources, looted, divided a territory belonging to Somali people into five areas, and created endless conflicts between Somalia and its neighbors. In 1960, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland were united to create the Somali Republic. However, colonial boundaries gave Ethiopia, Kenya and France control over land belonging to Somalia. After independence, the Somali government was accused of making irredentist claims when it protested and demanded unification of all Somali territories under one flag. Despite Somalia’s good relations with the United States, at times Somalia felt abandoned by some of the U.S policy choices, particularly when those policies supported Somalia’s rival Ethiopia.
The United States was convinced that its main commitment in the Horn of Africa was to Ethiopia (Woodward, 2006). The United States felt uneasy and found it difficult to back Somalia’s territorial claims against its neighbors. Even though Somalia had the legal claims over these territories, the United States made it clear to the Somali government that it agreed with the Organization of African Union’s position regarding African borders. The African States agreed in principle to keep their colonial borders and they felt redrawing borders would bring more problems than it would resolve. During the 1977-78 war between Somalia and Ethiopia, the Somali government felt betrayed again by the United States for not coming to her rescue and not providing enough aid in their war with Ethiopia.
In 1991, both the Ethiopia and Somali governments collapsed at the same time. While Somali was left to its own devices, the United States worked tirelessly to save Ethiopia. Ethiopia was able to avoid the power vacuum that occurred in Somalia, because with the help of the United States, Ethiopia was able to create a transitional national government. The United States’ amicable relationship with Ethiopia began during World War II. President Roosevelt sought to balance the military expansionist campaign of Germany and Italy and provide support to Great Britain. To fulfill these two goals, President Roosevelt included Ethiopia the U.S. military “lend-lease” program in 1941 (Schraeder, p. 115). Ethiopia received military aid in exchange for providing the United States with a designated point for distribution and organization to use as a staging point for supporting the Allied forces in Europe.
After over two decades of no direct contact, the United States has officially recognized a government in Somalia. On January 17, 2013, at a joint press conference held at the U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed that the United States respects the sovereignty of Somalia. As a two sovereign nations, Clinton promised that they will continue to have an open, transparent dialogue about what can the United States do to help the people of Somalia to realize their own dreams. On his part, the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud stated that the people of Somalia were grateful for America’s support as the country emerges from a very long and difficult period. The Diplomatic relations between the two countries took a downwards spiral in 1991 after three rebel groups overthrew the former military government of President Said Barre, who singlehandedly ruled the country since coming to power in 1969. Since then, Somalia has not had a stable central government able to curb the conflict and lawlessness that has ravaged the country and is responsible for running chaos and civil war.
According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, the U.S embassy in Mogadishu closed down on January 5, 1991 and its operation was moved to Nairobi, where it currently retains a non-resident diplomatic mission for Somalia. Despite the absences of a central governing body coupled with a long running civil war, the United States has never formally severed diplomatic ties with Somalia. Instead, the United States has cooperated with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia as the legitimate governing body of the country. However, when appropriate for its own interest, the United States has used its dual- track policy adopted in 2010 in order to engage administrations that did not come under the control of the Transitional Federal Government. The self-declared independent region of Somaliland in the north and the autonomous region of Putland in the northeast have had direct talks with the United States, despite not being under the influence of the Transitional Federal Government. These two Somali regions have avoided the civil war and remained relatively peaceful. With this diplomatic recognition, Somalia has a chance to extant that peace to the whole country by utilizing it is renewed diplomatic mission with the United States, the only remaining superpower in the world.
Woodward, P. (2006). US foreign policy and the Horn of Africa. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate Pub. Co.
Schraeder, P. J. (1994). United States foreign policy toward Africa: Incrementalism, crisis, and change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sadiq A. Abdirahman is an independent political analyst specializing in the Horn of Africa and a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas. He can be reached at “email@example.com”