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Clinton Visits Africa at a Critical Time for Somalia

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with African leaders this week during her eleven-day, seven-nation tour of the continent, she will be forced to face a cache of challenges, from recent instability in Nigeria to the continuing plight of refugees and women in the Congo. But one of her most awaited encounters will come on Thursday as she meets with the president of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, in Nairobi, Kenya. The continued chaos in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, as government forces attempt to repel the latest attacks by Islamic insurgents, has only intensified in the past months and thrust Somalia once again into the international spotlight. At the meeting , Secretary Clinton is expected to reiterate her support for the TFG and the United States’ commitment to providing monetary and military aid to the beleaguered African Union mission in Somalia, in line with recent statements made by the State Department.

"We think that his government … offers the best possible chance for restoring stability to southern Somalia, which has been troubled over the last 20 years by enormous violence and civil conflict," the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State said at State Department press briefing last week.

Yet if the United States is serious about restoring stability to this war-weary country, it must begin by addressing the multinational aspect of its mushrooming conflict. Calls to stabilize Somalia have reached a new level as governments all over the world discover how the Somali conflict has extended into and affected their own spheres. This week, Australia arrested four men linked to Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s strongest Islamic insurgent group, who were plotting to storm a military base in Sydney. The United State’s FBI is currently investigating why and how dozens of young Somali-Americans have returned to Somalia to enlist in Al-Shabaab since 1991. Meanwhile, Kenya, Somalia’s southern neighbor, continuously struggles to provide aid for the 260,000 Somali refugees within its boundaries and to stem the flow of Islamic rebels pouring into its borders. These recent developments prove that the fate of this conflict not only affects Somalia, but poses a global security challenge – one Secretary Clinton must promptly and fully address this week in Kenya.

As Somali Information Minister Farhan Ali Mohamoud told CNN last week, “Somalia’s problems are not for Somalia alone to solve. Not only for the African Union to solve. It is a global and regional issue. We are very appreciative that the international community understands that, but they need to act now, rather than later."

Secretary Clinton and the United States have already made hopeful strides with their offers of aid, but more must be done. While further promises of support for African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are welcome, the United States and its allies must also work with the African Union improve the efficiency of the force, which has so far been considered negligible due to a lack of soldiers. The Obama administration has pledged to supply Somali government forces with arms and security training, but more must be done to protect the thousands of Somalis caught in the conflict’s crossfire and to assist the country’s more than 200,000 internally displaced persons. Moreover, the United Nations must address the role of Eritrea, whose continued support of Al-Shabaab has led to threats of sanctions by members of the Security Council.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, has called for a greater, stronger international response to Somalia’s instability, saying the country is at a “turning point” for battling insurgents. He appealed to the Security Council to forcefully tackle Somalia’s humanitarian crisis, emphasizing immediate action: “If not now, then when? If the council does not act, then who will?” For such pleas to be answered, Secretary Clinton and the United States must take a leading role in addressing Somalia’s instability and violence now.

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