The history of Somalia—a country reeling from a long struggle against colonial imposition—and the United States share multi-faceted relationship that has shown immense potential for sustainable development.
At its birth as a promising young democracy, Somalia has enjoyed and guaranteed its citizens fundamental freedoms relating to political participation, a multi-party system, electoral mechanisms, and a Constitution that guaranteed the freedom of Press. The United States has played a supporting role throughout this journey, and the relationship between the two nations has evolved in several ways over the decades.
This distinctive bilateral relations has seen multiple, tumultuous phases that presented several unique challenges: a coup d’etat that ended the democratic system and a dramatic shift to communism; a period that is defined by struggles related to restoring democracy and liberalizing the market system.
Although the U.S. continues to support Somalia through humanitarian and development assistance, there are several untapped opportunities for bilateral trade and investment.
Throughout the period of civil war, the U.S. and Somalia developed new cultural and population ties as hundreds of thousands of Somalis found refuge in the States. Fleeing war and humanitarian crises, these individuals found opportunities for active participation in the U.S. politics, and even returned home to assume leadership positions in Somalia.
Waxaan khudbad kooban ka jeediyay xaflada oo uu soo qaban qaabiyay @JV_Institute Machadka Dooxada Jubba oo uu ka soo qayb galay Xamse Warfaa. Aniga iyo Xamse waxa kale oo aanu wada yeelanay fadhi 30-daqiiqo ah oo ku saabsan hoggaaminta. Muuqaalkan oo dhamaystiran ayaa dhawaan la… pic.twitter.com/KbNgDaMBGq
— Dr. Mohamed Osman, Ph.D. د. محمد عثمان (@MohamedOsmanSom) August 14, 2023
Personal Insights: Conversation with Hamse Warfa
In a recent event in Kismayo hosted by the Juba Valley Institute, I was honoured to moderate a discussion on leadership. Hamse Warfa, the Senior Advisor to the U.S. State Department, was the key guest.
Mr Warfa’s position within the administration strategically amplifies the Somali voice, providing a link between the two governments. His insight into the American political landscape and the intricate dynamics of Somali society facilitates a nuanced approach for collaboration.
His visit to Somalia during this critical period of state-building underscores the ongoing commitment. During my conversation with Mr. Warfa, we discussed various topics, including cultural ties, economic transformation, leadership and a deliberate investment into the future of the youths.
Our conversation also touched upon Somalia’s bid for membership in the East Africa Community and its vision of connecting the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This regional integration and connectivity will provide avenues for economic transformation, further cementing the relationship between the U.S. and Somalia.
Somalia’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr. Ali Mohamed Omar, welcomed Warfa’s insightful engagement remarks that emphasized the significant role played by the Somali diaspora communities—-particularly the youth—in Somalia’s road map towards stabilization, recovery, and reconstruction. This would suggest that Somalia, with incremental increases in savings and investment, could achieve high rates of growth quickly.
Mr. Omar noted that given the opportunity and the platform, youths from Somalia have the potential to achieve exponential success in business and leadership, taking Hamse Warfa—a young man who fled the civil war in Somalia in 1994 and rose through the ranks to become a celebrated official who built a career in both the public and private sector—as a classical example.
Mr. Omar further emphasized that the world over, nations that made “rapid strides in development have often received significant support from their diaspora communities.”
Amnesty International lauds Kulan Post for "holding those in power accountable." pic.twitter.com/qlT01jMZy5
— Kulan Post (@kulanpost) May 22, 2023
As Somalia grapples with rebuilding its state and economy, international collaboration and diaspora involvement becomes ever more crucial. Warfa, formerly the Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), accentuated that state-building and economic development are deeply interconnected.
One of the pressing issues that worries me as an economist is Somalia’s current trade deficit. According to the Central Bank reports for Quarter 4 of 2022, Somalia’s imports stand at a staggering 1.7 billion USD, whereas exports barely reach 153 million USD—70% of which come from livestock. Our economy struggles to function optimally under such conditions, and our diaspora and international aid primarily fund this significant trade deficit.
When I asked Warfa what Somalia could learn from the U.S. regarding governance and economic development, he suggested focusing on human capital development, particularly in education. He said this sector “should be targeted to equip individuals with skills that address both current and future labour market needs.”
Warfa recalled his experience with DEED in Minnesota, where many job opportunities were available. in 2019 alone, he recounted, 250,000 jobs were vacant. American companies were actively seeking workers, including Somalis and other ethnic groups. He pointed out that while technological advancements might replace some jobs, they could create new opportunities.
The U.S., he noted, has established initiatives like AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) that allow countries like Kenya to benefit from trade relations with the U.S. Warfa praised the Somali government’s efforts to seek membership in the East African Community (EAC). This move could provide Somalia with greater market access and economic benefits. He expressed that the Somali diaspora could be pivotal in facilitating economic and trade relations with the U.S. and other countries.
In 1962, the U.S. and Somalia signed investment guarantees that came into force in 1964, promoting economic resources and enhancing the productive capabilities of Somalia. This indicated the promising start between the two nations as economic allies. These agreements were designed to support the Somali people in their economic and social development quest.
Today, Somalia seems interested in reclaiming its democratic heritage and reviving its economic relationship with the U.S. During the Biden Africa Summit, Somalia’s President expressed interest in being part of the U.S. AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) network. This ambitious effort signifies Somalia’s intent to explore more bilateral economic opportunities with the U.S.
— Dr. Mohamed Osman, Ph.D. د. محمد عثمان (@MohamedOsmanSom) August 30, 2023
Centennial Vision 2060: Charting a Bold Future
Somalia is now developing a centennial vision for its 100th-anniversary celebration in 2060. With less than 38 years to recover from decades of totalitarian rule and war, the concept seeks to make Somalia democratic and economically competitive again.
As the most significant economic power in the world, the U.S.’s involvement will be instrumental in this transformation. For Somalia to achieve this vision, it indispensably needs U.S. collaboration through long-term engagement, using existing U.S. instruments such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Global Fragility Act (GFA), among others.
The AGOA provides Sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets, fostering economic growth and development. For Somalia, joining AGOA would provide opportunities to enhance trade, export products, and boost local industries. The government has submitted its request to join AGOA to the U.S. Trade Representative and is currently in the process of joining. This request was part of Somalia’s talks with the Biden Administration during the Biden Africa Summit, signalling a commitment to expanding economic ties.
Another essential element in this collaboration is the Global Fragility Act (GFA), signed into law in the United States in 2019. Although not now a priority country, it is imperative for both the U.S. and Somalia to align their priorities in preventing conflicts and addressing fragility.
The GFA represents a significant step in international efforts to prevent conflict and address the underlying causes of fragility, instability, and violence in fragile states. It requires a 10-year strategy that identifies priority regions and sets clear objectives, measures, and approaches, with $1.15 billion committed to the next five years.
The relationship between the U.S. and Somalia is a tale of shared struggles, mutual support, and a vision for a brighter future. The partnership continues to evolve from the promising start in the 1960s to the current collaboration in state-building and humanitarian assistance.
With Somalia’s ambitious Centennial Vision 2060 and the active participation of Somali Americans in both countries’ politics, a new era is dawning. This partnership’s next phase will undoubtedly be defined by increased economic collaboration, cultural understanding, and a commitment to shared democratic values.
As Somalia continues its journey toward recovery, stability, and prosperity, the U.S.’s role as an ally and partner remains crucial. The future looks promising, and the unfolding chapters of this partnership are yet to be written.
Dr Mohamed Osman Mohamoud, PhD, is the National Economic Advisor to the President of Somalia. He is also a Member of the National Economic Council and serves as a Regional Representative for the United Nations University for Peace. In addition to his roles in government and international organizations, Dr Mohamoud is the Founder and CEO of the Sadar Institute. You can follow the author on twitter @MohamedOsmanSom