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Obama Nominates First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991

  • Gabe Joselow

Katherine Dhanani is President Obama's nominee to serve as the new U.S. Ambassador to Somalia since 1991.

Katherine Dhanani is President Obama's nominee to serve as the new U.S. Ambassador to Somalia since 1991.

President Barack Obama nominated career diplomat Katherine Dhanani Tuesday to serve as the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia since 1991.

The Senate must approve Dhanani for the post. If confirmed, she would lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia, which is located in neighboring Kenya.

Dhanani has served in diplomatic assignments across Africa, including Zimbabwe, Gabon, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville. She would replace a U.S. special representative who acts as the current envoy to Somalia, operating out of Nairobi, Kenya.

"As security conditions permit, we look forward to increasing our diplomatic presence in Somalia and eventually reopening the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Psaki called the nomination "historic" and said it shows the "deepening relationship" between the U.S. and Somalia.

Reaction in Somalia

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirachid Ali Shamarke described Dhanani's nomination as "a very positive moment" in U.S. - Somali relations.

Speaking to VOA by phone from Mogadishu, the spokesman for the prime minister's office, Ridwan Haji, said the timing is particularly good, as the country seeks to cement political reforms outlined in a policy plan known as Vision 2016.

“This is actually the right time. The year 2015 and the year 2016 is the main two years that the government wants to achieve a lot and the support of the United States of America in terms of security and humanitarian assistance is really important," Haji said, adding that he thinks it is time for the United States to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Somalia.

“The ambassador will probably stay in Nairobi at the moment, but the plan is the embassy will come to Mogadishu to really work very closely with the Somali government," he said.

While the United States has not maintained an official military presence in Somalia since the infamous "Black Hawk Down" mission in 1993, it has been engaged in anti-terrorism operations in the country. U.S. drones have killed key leaders of the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, including its top commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane, in September.

U.S. anti-terror policy in Somalia has also brought controversy. Tough financial rules designed to prevent money from flowing to terror groups has forced banks in the United States to cut money transfer services to Somalia. The move has threatened a key lifeline for many Somalis who depend on remittances from abroad.

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