Accessibility links

Interview with Ambassador David Shinn


MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us today to talk about another fascinating country, Somalia, and its relationship to terrorism, Ambassador David Shinn. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and the former State Department Coordinator for Somalia. Now he is teaching at George Washington University. Thanks so much for joining us, Ambassador.

Somalia is a fascinating country. It hasn't really had a functioning government for over a decade now. Is it the kind of place that one would think would be the next site for a hotbed of terrorism?

AMBASSADOR SHINN:
There are some aspects of Somalia that would suggest that it could be a hotbed for terrorism. However, I would make very clear at the beginning that Somalia is no Afghanistan. There is one group which is currently functioning in Somalia; it's called Al-Itihad Al-Islamia, which does have a terrorist background, at least in terms of conducting terrorist acts inside Ethiopia. And indeed it has taken credit for some of those acts in the mid-1990's, including the bombings of hotels and restaurants and the attempted assassination of an Ethiopian minister. This still does not put it anywhere near in the same category that Afghanistan is in.

You don't have in Somalia a national government that was, in effect, aiding and abetting and fully supporting a major terrorist organization like al Qaeda. And indeed, Al-Itihad itself doesn't come in the same category that al Qaeda does, although it probably has links to al Qaeda.

MR. BORGIDA:
Now, The United States has been keeping a close watch on Somalia, and other countries have, too. Tell us in a little more detail about the different areas of the country that may present more opportunity for terrorists, and perhaps others, less opportunity for terrorists.

AMBASSADOR SHINN:
Because Somalia is a failed state and it has no national government, what you have, in effect, are a group of independent political fiefdoms that operate in different parts of the country. The one area that is relatively stable and where security is good and where there is a government that has in fact declared independence is Somaliland, which is the northern third of the country. Basically, that is not part of the discussion today in terms of ongoing terrorist activity. It's in the lower two-thirds of Somalia where we are talking about possible terrorist acts, and particularly that by Al-Itihad.

Al-Itihad has had several bases of support in the last 10 years. One is at Lugh, near the border with Ethiopia. That probably has been removed and is probably no longer there. Another is Ras Chiamboni, all the way down in the southern tip of Somalia, near the border with Kenya. There was a recent U.N. team in there, at least in the fall of last year, and they confirmed that there were no current indications that Al-Itihad was there. My guess is that Al-Itihad has moved around, has thinned itself out, and has become a much more difficult group to try to identify today.

MR. BORGIDA:
We talked a little bit about the internal politics of Somalia, but clearly famine, drought, conditions of living exacerbate all these political factors. Talk to us a little bit about that and how that can factor into this fear of future terrorism there.

AMBASSADOR SHINN:
Well, you have virtually a total breakdown of any kind of a national government. So yes, these are elements that do play into the picture. Interestingly, you have a situation in Somalia today where, to the extent there is much control, that there is much organization, it is done in large part by the business community. It is sort of an ideal situation for businessmen, where there are no rules, there are no regulations, you can do what you please. And in effect, there has been a lot of private activity which has made the country run to a certain extent.

That, however, does not deal with the social issues. There is relatively little education going on. There is relatively little by way of health care. There are some private activities in both of these areas, but they are extremely limited. So you have an ideal situation for a group to enter, provide some of these service, as Al-Itihad and related organizations have done, sort of win over some of the people by providing some Islamic education or some very basic health care, and then also conduct your other activities or your other agenda at the same time. So it is something of a vacuum and it really does create problems.

MR. BORGIDA:
In the last minute or so we have, Ambassador, many East African countries are meeting, we hope, this week to talk about Somalia. I think they are meeting in Kenya. Are Somalia's neighbors very concerned about Somalia's future?

AMBASSADOR SHINN:
They are very concerned, indeed, because whenever you have a vacuum or a void such as you have, you have the possibility for things coming out of Somalia that are not good for neighbors. And indeed, that has been a long history of the Somalia relationship particularly with Ethiopia and Kenya. And indeed, Somalia has long claimed chunks of those two countries, plus Djibouti. So this is a problem, and this is a great concern to the neighboring countries.

MR. BORGIDA:
We will keep a close watch on all the events in Kenya if that meeting does take place. Thank you so much, former U.S. Ambassador David Shinn. We appreciate your time today.

AMBASSADOR SHINN:
Thank you, David.

XS
SM
MD
LG