- By Josh Rogin
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in more than 20 years Thursday, when he visited the country and pledged increased support for its fragile government.
Shah spent five hours Thursday in the Mogadishu airport complex, the most secure part of Somalia’s capital, but used his time efficiently, meeting with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, Foreign Minister Fowsiyo Yussuf Haji Aadan, and aid groups. Shah announced an additional $20 in humanitarian assistance for Somalia.
"Throughout this time, the Somali people endured the unendurable – violence, fear, hunger, and disease — but they also came together to build something new – a foundation that would anchor a stable future for Somalia," Shah said in a statement. "For years, USAID has been proud to stand by the reformers — the Somalis who fought for peace and a better life for the children. We have worked not only to meet emergency needs, but also to support long-term community efforts to rebuild the neighborhoods, rebuild livelihoods and rebuild their confidence in their government."
The stop was part of Shah’s tour of the region, which will includes stops in Tanzania and Kenya. He visited Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Feb. 20 and met with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, and Minister of Energy and Minerals Sospeter Muhongo. After his stop in Somalia, Shah went to Nairobi, Kenya and met with the National Bunge Youth Association.
In an interview with the AP in Kenya, Shah said his Somalia visit was a signal of the desire of the U.S. government to work with Somalia’s new government to create a more hopeful future for the Somali people.
"America is prepared and committed to stand with the people of Somalia and their new, now-recognized and legitimate government as it tries to build both peace and prosperity, and the task of building peace and prosperity in an environment that has been plagued with extreme ideology and threat, famine and drought," Shah told the AP.
Earlier this week, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, also visited Mogadishu and spent some time at the airport complex meeting with Mohamud as well as members of the business community and expat community. Ellison called The Cable from the region to report that he was hopeful about the prospects of a stable and democratic Somalia.
"Though things are still fragile, there are definite reasons to hope that Somalia is going to continue to democratize and strengthen its institutions," Ellison said. "The bottom line is that people feel that Somalia has a window of opportunity, if it can get some help from the international community it can put years of chaos behind it."
Ellison is also working on the issue of allowing Somali immigrants living in the United States, many of which are in Minnesota, to more easily send money back to their families in Somalia. Ellison has introduced legislation to consolidate audits and regulatory oversight to streamline remittances.
Last month, Mohamud pleaded for more U.S. support in an interview with The Cable during his visit to Washington. The U.S. government recognized the Somali government during his visit and pledged to begin the process of reestablishing formal diplomatic ties.
Ellison said that although there have been more than a dozen attempts to stand the Somali government on its feet over the past two decades, he was confident that increased U.S. support for Mohamud’s government would yield benefits for both countries.
"This administration in Mogadishu has convinced me that they are a good investment," said Ellison. "This one is the real deal."