President Obama’s plan to renew sanctions against Somalia to weaken Islamist militants would wrack the war-torn country’s economy just as an elected government is restoring stability for the first time in 22 years and as thousands of refugees are returning to their homeland.
The sanctions, imposed in 2010, are scheduled to be lifted Friday. They prohibit charcoal exports a key source of funding for al-Shabab terrorists, whose grip on parts of Somalia has been loosened by U.N.-backed African Union forces.
Charcoal exports are also a basic economic resource that affects thousands of Somali villagers.
In announcing to Congress his intention to extend sanctions for one year, Mr. Obama last week noted that his administration in January formally recognized Somalia’s new government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The U.S. action allows the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Somali, as well as civilian and defensive military aid.
“Although the U.S. recognition underscores a strong commitment to Somalia’s stabilization, it does not remove the importance of U.S. sanctions, especially against persons undermining the stability of Somalia,” Mr. Obama said in a letter to lawmakers. “For this reason I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to Somalia and to maintain in force the sanctions … to respond to this threat.”
Such harsh action could not come at a worse time for the struggling villagers and merchants in Somalia, which I visited last week.
Security in the Somali capital Mogadishu has improved dramatically since African Union forces drove out al-Shabab in August 2011, but sporadic bomb attacks continue.
Mohamed Guled, a naturalized U.S. citizen who recently visited his former family home in Mogadishu, showed me pictures he took of the positive side of the capital a new beginning for this once richly cultured city. Somalis are returning from abroad, and new homes are being built. Somalis also are getting more involved in starting new businesses; schools and hospitals are being built, and roads are being upgraded.
Land mines, a longtime problem, have been removed in most areas.
A new president and parliament have been elected, and the courts are functioning more transparently. There are signs of an emerging energetic civil society, Mr. Guled said with a smile.
Refugees also are returning to Somaliland, a de facto state recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia.
In Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, I visited two schools that the Price Family Foundation has sponsored. The Ambassador Hotel where I stayed was booked with businessmen and representatives of nongovernmental organizations. A wedding party was staying there. The local markets were bustling with activity.
Mr. Guled had come to Somaliland to establish his distribution business selling diapers and feminine hygiene products. His younger brother, Hussein, was there to help launch the new enterprise.
I traveled with Hodan Guled, sister of Mohamed and Hussein Guled and director of the Somali and American Fund for Education.