New era as the US returns to Mogadishu

Saturday December 08 2018

A street in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Washington has renewed "permanent diplomatic presence" in Somalia after 28-year closure. PHOTO | REUTERS


At the onset of the civil strife in the Somali capital Mogadishu in January 1991, the US compound was used as the main station to airlift all foreign diplomats to safety.

The large compound was called Sliligga (weird), because it was enclosed by a barbed wire and a concrete wall. Sliligga was easily the most protected foreign diplomatic mission in Mogadishu.

But, as soon as the airlifting of the diplomats was over, looters descended on the fortified compound, carting away every movable item they lay their hands on.

It would take another year before the US mission would come back to life again.

That was in December 1992, when former US president George W. Bush, who died last week, ordered over 30,000 marines to land on the beaches of Somalia.

The mission was not to conquer Mogadishu, or re-establish normal diplomatic relations with the Horn of Africa state, but to initiate a humanitarian operation codenamed Operation Restore Hope.


The operation coincided with the peak of the Somalia civil war, as rebel groups that had defeated the dictatorial regime of Gen Mohamed Siad Barre turned their guns on each other.

It was the recipe for worsening the famine that had overwhelmed the country from the early 1990s.

Operation Restore Hope also attracted many other countries to join the US in the solemn mission of extending humanitarian assistance.

The mission also made history when George W. Bush became the first and only US president to set foot on Somali soil.

Of course, president Bush was concluding his term and was about to be replaced by the already president-elect Bill Clinton.

President Clinton too would make history when he ended Operation Restore Hope, following the downing of two US Black Hawk helicopters and the deaths of 18 marines on October 3, 1993.

Although the US remained one of the strongest supporters of Somalia, especially in peace-building and relief operations, its activities were largely based in Nairobi.

When Somalia adopted the first transitional federal constitution in August 2012, paving the way for the end of the interim government, the US reacted positively.

The newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud was welcomed into the White House and met with President Barack Obama, signalling that Washington had formally recognised the Mogadishu government.

Since then, the diplomatic contacts between the two countries have been warm, but rather low key.

President Donald Trump has now elevated US interest in Somalia, especially with his ordering of increased attacks on the bases of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab, soon after taking office.

The new US ambassador, Donald Y. Yamamoto, who presented his credentials to President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo last month, affirmed that his mission would operate from the Somali capital.