The first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in 25 years has arrived in Mogadishu and presented his credentials to the Somali government.
Ambassador Stephen Schwartz, who met Tuesday with Foreign Affairs Minister Abdisalam Omar Hadliye, is tasked with helping Somali officials stabilize the country after decades of civil war and the al-Shabab insurgency.
“The appointment of an ambassador to Somalia is a sign of the strong bonds between the two countries,” Schwartz said after the meeting. “… I am pleased to have this opportunity to help the people of Somalia build a peaceful nation with a stable democratic government.”
Schwartz praised Somalia’s progress over the last eight years and urged Somali’s leaders to deepen their commitment to improving the lives of Somali people, including women and youth, according to a statement from the Somali Foreign Ministry.
Why US closed embassy in 1991
State collapse is the main reason for the long U.S. diplomatic absence from Somalia. In 1991, the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu closed after the regime of Mohamed Said Barre was overthrown and violence erupted between warring clan militias.
In late 1992, President George H.W. Bush deployed U.S. troops to Somalia to support a U.N. aid mission aimed at relieving mass starvation. But 10 months later, 18 American soldiers were killed in Mogadishu by rebels who shot down two U.S. helicopters, in the “Black Hawk Down” incident. The United States withdrew its troops the next year.
After two decades of war and chaos, it was only in 2012 that Somalia achieved some measure of stability with the creation of an internationally-backed government.
Security issues remain
But security remains a problem, as the militant group al-Shabab continues to launch attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere, a situation noted by the new envoy.
On Tuesday, Somali leaders ended a meeting in Mogadishu aimed at making final preparations for the upcoming elections.
Leaders endorsed a new timetable announced by the Somali Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT) that sets October 30 as the date for presidential election.
Lawmakers will elect the president, after officials agreed it was not possible to hold one-person one-vote elections across the still-volatile country. President Hassan Mohamud has said he will seek re-election.