When former Secretary Clinton received Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on January 17, 2013 to recognize the Federal Government of Somalia, it marked a significant turning point in U.S.-Somalia relations. Both the U.S. Embassy in Somalia and the Somali Embassy in Washington closed in 1991 with the collapse of Somalia’s government. Although the United States never formally severed diplomatic relations with Somalia, the absence of formal diplomatic channels for 23 years greatly hampered the ability of our countries to cooperate with one another.
With Somalia’s emergence from over two decades of conflict, reestablishing the institutional relationships through which our countries can interact has been one of our top priorities. In fact, one of my first assignments when I arrived on the Somalia Desk was to respond to the Government of Somalia’s request to reestablish their diplomatic mission in the United States. I knew this was a rare opportunity and working with my colleagues across the Department to facilitate a positive response has been one of my career highlights.
One of the primary responsibilities of a desk officer is to manage a bilateral relationship for the United States government. Our ability to convey U.S. official messages, seek Somali government positions, and maintain fluid engagement has been impaired without a Somali counterpart with whom to engage in Washington. However, a new day has dawned in U.S.-Somalia relations.
On July 14, after a diplomatic absence of 23 years, President Obama received Omar Sharmarke’s credentials as Somalia’s Ambassador to the United States. This diplomatic appointment is particularly noteworthy because on November 27, 1962 President John F. Kennedy welcomed Somalia’s first Prime Minister, Abdirashid Sharmarke, the ambassador’s father, in an official visit to the White House. Then, as now, the United States supported a new Somali government as it sought to realize the Somali people’s desire for a peaceful and prosperous future.
As both governments move forward and continue to restore the bilateral relationship -- Under Secretary Wendy Sherman announced on June 3 the United States soon will be appointing an ambassador to Somalia -- I look forward to laying the foundation of our new relationship with the Somali diplomatic mission that I hope will advance U.S. interests and help to bring stability, peace, and security in Somalia.
About the Author: Safia Mohamoud serves as a Somalia Desk Officer in the State Department’s Office of East African Affairs.