U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not visit Somalia on her Africa tour, but the situation there will be addressed. Mrs. Clinton is expected to meet with Somalia's president Thursday in Nairobi.
The ongoing conflict between the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Islamist militias has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project and a member of the board of directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, spoke to VOA about where Somalia falls on Mrs. Clinton's list of priorities.
"I'd say it's very much in the top three to five issues. She does have a lot of very important Africa-related issues on her agenda – oil, democracy, conflict, etc. – as well as her announced agenda of food security and promoting trade and investment and political reform," he says.
How tough a problem to solve?
"They're all really tough issues to solve. And I have to say I don't think that the Obama administration has a very good understanding of a lot of the complexities of these issues or of what needs to be done to solve them. But it's certainly one of the more complicated," he says.
He blames that in part on the fact that the TFG actually controls very little of the country.
Volman, who's an expert in security and military policy, says the Obama administration lacks a broad approach to Somalia, as have past US administrations.
"President Obama himself and…most of his advisers, continue to believe that militaryinstruments…are, if not the best and preferable instruments for pursuing US policy, that they're really the only instruments that they have at hand…and need to rely on them," he says.
Volman also disagrees with the current strategy of waging a global war on terrorism.
"I think it makes absolutely no sense to define terrorism as a military issue and to try to use military instruments to deal with it," he says. But he says that policy affects how the US responds to Somalia, just as it does to Afghanistan.
"The primary principle that needs to be employed here is first do no harm. That in the rush to do something, they're making serious errors of judgment in the belief that they have to respond immediately,' he says.
Volman says a longer term view and policy are needed for Somalia and warns against politicians basing decisions on election cycles and opinion polls.
"This is a bipartisan problem in American foreign policy…. By rushing in to provide security assistance to the Transitional Federal Government…we delegitimize that government. We stigmatize it as an agent of American policy. We make it much more difficult for it to reach out and achieve any kind of broad-based political solutions," he says.
He says the US needs to develop alternative approaches and instruments to these problems.
"President Obama himself has spoken quite eloquently about the need to address these problems – to take a global approach – to use his phrase "transnational means," he says.
Volman says such an approach means working through the African Union, the United Nations and other multi-lateral institutions.
What the US can do
"The United States government itself has to develop its own capacity to engage much more multi-laterally. Part of that is to develop the (US) Agency for International Development (USAID). Another part of that is to really push for serious reform at the United Nations and to do whatever it can to make the African Union a much more effective organization," he says.
"Part of President Obama's problem is that the only instrument he has at his disposal is the Pentagon. He doesn't have an effective State Department because it's been denuded of its resources and its personnel. The (US) Agency for International Development is in even worse shape," he says.
Many vacancies went unfilled during the past several years in what some critics have said was an attempt by the Bush administration to weaken the department in favor of the Pentagon.
Long-term solution to Somalia could take a long time
"It's going to take decades to solve these problems just as it took decades to create them. You have to take a long term view of how you're going to solve them. And there's no guarantee that you're going to solve them," he says.
The Somalia conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, while millions are in need of emergency food aid and other assistance.