The top U.S. diplomat for Africa has made an unusual direct appeal to the people of Somalia to reconcile differences and work together after years of political strife. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer spoke in a VOA interview in connection with Monday's launch of VOA's new Somalia program. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The past few months have been among the most turbulent in Somalia's troubled history, but Assistant Secretary Frazer says the current situation, in the aftermath of Ethiopian intervention that helped drive radical Islamists from power, offers Somalis a real opportunity to restore stable governance in the country for the first time in 16 years.
Interviewed at the State Department prior to departing for Dar es-Salaam and last Friday's meeting of the international "contact group" on Somalia, Frazer said she wanted to use the first of the renewed VOA broadcasts to that country to urge Somalis to reach out to one another.
"Inclusive dialogue and reconciliation are important," she said. "I especially appeal to the Somali women, who are extremely strong, and I say to them: reach out to your husbands, to your sons, and to your brothers. And tell them to put down their weapons. Now is a time for discussion and dialogue, not for the types of mortar attacks and shootings to take place in Somalia. Now is the time for peace and for dialogue."
Frazer attributed the swift collapse of the Council of Islamic Courts movement, which had controlled Mogadishu since the middle of last year, to a desire by everyday Somalis to take control of their own destiny and to, as she put it, "deny space" to warlords, religious extremists, bandits and others who have held sway in the country since 1991.
The assistant secretary has taken a lead role in international efforts to field an African Union stabilization force in Somalia to replace the Ethiopians, who have already begun to withdraw.
Though the process of building the Ugandan-led force to back up the Somali transitional federal administration has been slow, Frazer said she is not discouraged and said the United States is ready to support the deployment with funding and logistics.
"We're prepared to provide planners, in-capital and at the AU headquarters," she said. "We have said that we will provide contract airlift, particularly for the Ugandans. We'll provide equipment, we'll help with sustainment. We have money and resources available. And so we're prepared to help and assist. We did this before in Liberia, before ECOWAS went into Liberia, and we certainly know what we're doing."
The Bush administration has earmarked $60 million for aid to Somalia, two-thirds of it to support the force deployment, in the supplemental budget request it sent Congress this month, otherwise dominated by funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Frazer, who has held the top Africa post at the State Department since 2005, defended the Somalia aid request in congressional testimony last week, in which she also resisted calls from House members for the naming of a U.S. special envoy for Somalia.
In the talk with VOA, Frazer bristled at the idea that an envoy is needed, since she said that pre-supposes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top officials are too preoccupied with other matters to focus on Somalia.
"I have no problem with a special envoy for Somalia," she said, "but what I do have trouble with is the notion that somehow Somalia isn't of the importance that it should be a priority for the secretary of state. It is a priority for Secretary Rice. And so the notion that you have to have an envoy when you actually have a secretary of state fully engaged, daily, working on Somalia as one of her key priorities - just like she does Iraq and Afghanistan and other key priorities - I think comes from a time when perhaps Africa issues weren't considered a priority for the principal levels."
Frazer, who said the Bush administration will be seen over time to have been the most attentive ever to African issues, said she considers it important for the United States to establish a diplomatic presence in Somalia.
But she gave no timetable, and said in the meantime day-to-day contacts with Somalis will continue to be handled through the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.