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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of African Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2002: African Affairs Remarks

Weak States and Terrorism in Africa: U.S. Policy Options in Somalia

Walter H. Kansteiner, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs
Washington, DC
February 6, 2002

Chairman Feingold, Members of the Committee,

Thank you for inviting me to testify today on an issue that the tragic events of September 11, 2001, thrust into bold relief: the characteristics of weak states that make them attractive to terrorists and international criminals.

Leo Tolstoy did not have successful and unsuccessful states in mind when he wrote, in Anna Karenina, that "all happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Nevertheless, his words apply to our discussion today. For all their differences, successful states resemble each other because they all have found ways to function as polities; they have cohesive national identities and social compacts that bind them together. Unsuccessful states, however, fail as polities for a wide variety of reasons. Some so-called "failed states" have been torn asunder by civil war, others by external aggression. Some have foundered on unresolved conflicts based on clan or ethnicity; drought and grinding poverty have claimed still more. All have potential for destabilizing their neighbors.

Africa is far from being immune to the illness of nation-state failure. Recognizing that fact, and being aware that it is far easier to prevent failure than to cope with its consequences, the State Department has adopted five goals that guide policy efforts to confront the conditions leading to nation-state failure in Africa.

  • Increase democracy, good governance, and respect for the rule of law.
  • Combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases that threaten to cost Africa a generation of its most productive citizens.
  • Expand United States trade and investment with Africa to spur economic development and improve the well being of Africans.
  • Conserve Africa’s environment because people and the institutions they create to govern themselves cannot prosper when the air is not fit to breathe, water is unavailable, and forests and farmlands have turned to dust.
  • End Africa’s wars. Doing so is an absolute necessity, and you really can’t pursue the other four policy goals without it.

Regrettably, some African states have suffered so much for so long that they cannot be helped by a prevention strategy of the type I’ve outlined above. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, these countries’ unique problems must be addressed individually.

Today, Mr. Chairman, you and your Subcommittee are focusing on one such country, Somalia, a place to which, quite frankly, the United States has not paid a great deal of policy-level attention since 1994. Civil war, external intervention, clan conflict and poverty have combined to turn Somalia into a "failed state." Somalia has no central government. Three principal factions (none of which is recognized by the United States as Somalia’s legitimate government) hold sway in separate parts of the country. In addition, numerous warlords continue to vie for dominance at the local level. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis live as refugees in neighboring countries, and many others are internally displaced. The economy is underdeveloped, with drought seriously affecting the country’s pastoral and agricultural base. Somalia’s primary sources of income are foreign assistance and remittance income from overseas. One of its principal exports – livestock - is banned from what should be Somalia’s major regional market. There is little infrastructure, and even less in the way of civil services such as schools. Where there should be a nation-state, there is a vacuum filled by warlords. What better place for the seeds of international terrorism and lawlessness to take root?

Al-Ittihad al-Islami, a Somali organization dedicated to creating a radical Islamist state in Somalia, has filled the vacuum in some parts of Somalia by opening its own schools and providing other services normally associated with government. We consider that development profoundly disturbing because Al-Ittihad has conducted terrorist operations in neighboring Ethiopia and was named in the President’s September 23, 2001 executive order blocking property of and prohibiting transactions with terrorist groups.

The United States has three policy goals related to Somalia:

  • removing the terrorist threat extant in Somalia and ensuring against Somalia’s use as a terrorist base;
  • preventing developments in Somalia from threatening regional peace and stability; and
  • overcoming the long-term governance challenges that terrorists exploit to make Somalia a base.

In accordance with your request that my testimony focus on long-term issues, I would like to spend a moment outlining several steps that already are in motion, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to address the last goal, overcoming the governance challenges Somalia faces. Then I will describe an effort that the USG has just begun to identify and develop additional ways to overcome those challenges and thereby prevent Somalia becoming a base for international terrorism.

At the bilateral level, we are providing some assistance to the Somali people to mitigate the impact of and prevent future disasters through infrastructure development. USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is working to rehabilitate Somalia’s war-ravaged potable water system, rebuild its primary health care facilities, and improve cargo ports and airports. In addition, we are working with Somalis through CARE to create civil society organizations, and encourage the further development of those already in existence. In this way, we hope to strengthen the governance and management capacity of Somali groups and communities, thereby creating a grass-roots demand for good government.

These initiatives are modest; USAID’s entire budget for Somalia (including a substantial sum for food-aid) was $17.9 million in FY 2001, to which we could add $4 million allocated for refugee resettlement to Somaliland. These are, however, vital; if Al-Ittihad is the only source of services people need for their survival, it – and not a legitimate, terrorist-free government – will gain their allegiance. But while these small, vital United States-funded programs provide a foundation upon which to build, they do not tackle directly the core problem facing Somalia: developing a polity that can command the respect and voluntary allegiance of all the Somali people.

Tackling that problem, of course, is something that the Somali people themselves must want to do if it is to be accomplished successfully. If the United States and the international community want good governance for Somalia more than the Somalis do themselves, the effort is doomed to fail. We saw this situation in 1993 to 1994, when peace agreements among the principal warlords that the United States had brokered along with Ethiopia and Kenya soon fell apart. Only then did we close our mission and decide to wait until the Somalis were ready for another effort. Assuming that the Somali people themselves want peace and reconciliation, however, there are multilateral initiatives underway that can help. They also come at a good time, since the Somali people in general have so far refused to support the political program of Al-Ittihad, despite the services and funding it provides.

The government of Djibouti, for example, has shepherded, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the so-called Arta process. This process began in May 2000, when Djibouti convened a Somalia reconciliation conference attended by over 2000 delegates. On July 16, 2000, conference leaders announced the formation of a three-year Transitional National Government (TNG) with a 245-seat Transitional National Assembly intended to govern all of Somalia. Thus far, however, the TNG has not succeeded in overcoming opposition from local warlords to expanding its scope of control significantly beyond several parts of Mogadishu and a small portion of the Somali coastline. Nor has the TNG crafted working arrangements with other principal Somali factions, including Puntland State and the self-styled "Republic of Somaliland." Finally, the TNG has not yet purged itself of ties to Al-Ittihad that are problematic from a counterterrorism perspective. Nevertheless, the United States stands ready to work with Djibouti in the Arta process should all the principal Somali factions choose to use that vehicle to accomplish national reconciliation.

Late last year, Kenyan President Moi began a new initiative to bring the Somali factions, some of the main warlords, and Somalia’s neighbors together to pursue Somali national reconciliation. That effort was brought under IGAD auspices at the January, 2002 IGAD summit in Khartoum. There, Ethiopia agreed to participate in the Kenya-led initiative. This is a particularly hopeful development because one of the main warlord groups resisting the reconciliation process, the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC), has close ties to Ethiopia. The United States attended the IGAD summit as an observer. We have pledged our cooperation to the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia in this new effort to help bring peace to Somalia.

Our own government has begun the process of marshalling ideas and resources to confront Somalia's long-term governance challenges. A sub-group of the Policy Coordinating Committee for Africa created specifically to examine this question met for the first time yesterday (February 5). It discussed topics such as working with Gulf states to lift the ban on importing livestock from Somalia, developing alternatives to schools financed by Al-Ittihad, creating new financial institutions to replace those, such as Al-Barakaat, that are tainted with connections to terrorism, and increasing support for Somali civil society.

I also wish to take this opportunity to support a position often made by Secretary Powell in his discussions with Congress. Precisely because the factors that cause states to become weak or fail vary from state to state, it is crucial to know which factors are in play in order to address them. Knowing such nuances from afar is difficult, and that means we have to have the right people in the right places—which means having the resources to put those people in place and sustain them. We appreciate the steps being made to meet this need, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that as our activities in relation to Somalia and other weak states develop, we are able to meet the demands imposed.

Mr. Chairman, Somalia did not become a "failed state" in a day. Similarly, solving the governance problems that make Somalia an attractive potential home for terrorists will not happen overnight. We have made a start. I am cautiously optimistic that the United States, Somalia’s neighbors and the international community can make a significant contribution to helping the Somali people regain functional government, and that the conditions that make Somalia attractive to terrorists can be overcome.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.



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