A new report calls on the Obama
administration to overhaul its strategy on Somalia. The Enough Project says
President Obama has inherited a dangerous and fast-moving crisis in Somalia
with profound implications for regional and international security.
John Prendergast says a more comprehensive, long-range strategy is needed. He spoke
to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about what he believes
needs to be done.
time to reverse course, pretty much 180 degrees from the Bush policy. The
policy of the previous administration was solely focused on counter-terrorism
and had no interest in the Somali situation itself, the internal dynamics. And,
of course, people realized that and the minute they realize that they will no
longer cooperate with our agenda if we're not interested in their agenda of
state building," he says.
says that the United States should have a policy that aids the building of a
"viable, functioning state in Somalia that can be a partner to deal with the
issues that interest us and interests the Somali people."
says that in the long run such a policy would be a better counter-terrorism
strategy than that of the Bush administration, which supported "warlords with
suitcases full of money or by backing the Ethiopians to go in militarily to try
to…pacify the country."
looks favorably on the election of a Sheik Sharif as the new president of the
Transitional Federal Government. "We need to support the United Nations and the
neighboring countries and other entities that are interested in supporting the
expansion of that governing entity over the course of the next year," he says.
acknowledges the power of the Islamist hard-line militia al Shabab, which the
Bush administration had labeled a terrorist organization. "They're going to
control parts of southern Somalia. That's just a reality. So, what will counter
the spread of extremism in Somalia is a patient coalition building between all
of the clans, including all of the clans and sub-clans and ideological groups,"
report calls upon the United States to use "humility" in its approach to
Somalia. Prendergast says, "We keep trying to build Rome in a day. Over the
last 16, 17 years, since the state collapsed…we keep trying to cobble these
paper coalitions together and then ramming them down the throat of the Somali
polity and no one accepts it. Anyone who's ever been involved in any Somali-led
political process or a process of conflict resolution knows these require
months and months of patient interest trading. And we have to sit in the back
seat here and say every once in a while, Is there anything we can do to help?
How can we be supportive, instead of driving in the front seat and grabbing the
steering wheel all the time."
whether there should be a timetable for the Obama administration to act, he
says, "There is an understanding within the new administration here in
Washington that a lot of issues can't be put on the back burner, that they'll
just rear their head and be much uglier down the road. We saw with the
appointments of Dick Holbrooke and George Mitchell a seriousness of purpose
with respect to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East and those kinds of
questions. We're hoping and pressing and urging the new administration to make
some kind of a decision with respect to the deployment of senior diplomats for
issues like Sudan, Somalia and Congo."
Prendergast says he like to see those
appointments sooner than six months.